The first Gibraltarian Methodist minister
Methodism in Gibraltar began in 1769 with a group of Soldiers the best known of
which was Sgt. Henry Ince, who was himself a Methodist lay preacher. Sgt Ince
became famous in Gibraltar through his work in the Upper Galleries
or 'Great Siege Tunnels' as they are known today. It was his
home that provided the first meeting place for Methodists.
The first Methodist Church was built in 1809 in Prince Edward's Road and later a
school and Manse were added. As Methodism grew the work spread into the Southern
part of Spain where Churches and schools were established.
Always linked with work among service personnel, that work became focussed in
the establishment of a recreation club in part of the school, and in 1898 a
'Welcome' home for soldiers and sailors was opened at No.6 Church Street, the
site of the old Eastern Telegraph offices. The 'Welcome' moved to the present
site at 297 Main Street in 1933 and was renamed 'Wesley House', the name that
still stands today. Through the Church and its ministry of worship and service
thousands of people of all faiths and none were welcomed and cared for over
these years of increasing outreach and growth.
The Church moved to its present location in 1956 when the old Church and Manse
were sold. The building was reconstructed into its present shape, and from here
the Church has become the spiritual home not only of Methodists but of
Christians from many backgrounds who live and work in and around Gibraltar. It
has also offered a warm welcome to many visitors who have shared in its worship
and enjoyed the warmth of The Carpenter's Arms.
In 1997 the Church in Gibraltar became part of the
then London South West District of
the Methodist Church in the United Kingdom and ceased to come under the orbit of
the Forces Board. This move recognized that, while the link with the forces
remained, the work of the Church was now very much focussed towards the whole
community of Gibraltar and its surrounding area. This work has continued and
grown to the present day and, we trust, will continue to do so. No longer the
Methodist Church in Gibraltar, but the Methodist Church of Gibraltar.
Gibraltarian Methodist minister
Although our current Superintendent
Minister, Fidel Patron is the first Gibraltarian
Methodist minister to be in pastoral charge of the church he is not
the first Gibraltarian to be ordained into the Methodist ministry.
The first minister was Alfredo Giolma, who was born in Gibraltar in
1840 to Spanish Roman Catholic parents. He spoke several languages
and was a "book-keeper and manager in a Jewish House of Business"
when he became a Methodist in 1859. In 1862 he was recommended as a
candidate for the Methodist ministry and was described by the
minister as "a young man of consistent piety and anxious in every
way within his power to be made useful to his fellow men. He is also
a young man of studious habits and has sought to make himself
acquainted with the work of our best theological writers so as to
qualify himself for future usefulness." The recommendation was
accepted and Giolma became an assistant missionary in Gibraltar. He
was paid a salary, given various duties and a course of study was
mapped out for him. He visited people, worked with the pupils in the
Methodist schools and preached to the small Spanish speaking
congregation then attached to the church.
In 1863 a number of Spanish Protestant exiles came to Gibraltar.
They had been arrested in Spain in 1860 and included Manuel
Matamoros, Josť Alhama and Miguel Trigo who were all sentenced to
long years of penal servitude for being Protestant. The severity of
the sentences caused an international outcry and eventually they
were commuted to exile and in May 1863 they were brought to
Gibraltar after nearly three years in prison. Others came with them
including Juan Cabrera, a former priest, who was not a Protestant at
this time but came to Gibraltar for safety because he had been in
correspondence with some of those who had been imprisoned. Giolma
sometimes preached to them and reported on several spiritual
conversations with Cabrera who may well have been converted under
his ministry. During his time in Gibraltar Cabrera and his wife had
two children who were baptised in the Methodist church.
In 1866 Giolma went to England for ordination and spent some months
there learning more about Methodism. The minister recommending him
for ordination had reported: "It is most desirable that Mr. Giolma
should have another sphere of labour for several years. I conceive
that his usefulness for the future
and his value therefore to the Society as an agent, depend upon
this". However, he returned to Gibraltar in early 1867 though no
information about his continued work there has survived but, in
February 1868, he left for Honduras where he had been appointed as
an assistant missionary to the Indian and Spanish mission there: He
arrived in April and began work in Corosal where he preached to
English and Spanish congregations and worked in a mission day
school. The Spanish work particularly prospered under his care but
there were difficulties in his relationships with his colleagues.
Perhaps a clue to what was going on lies in the fact that, despite
his training and ordination, he was designated 'assistant'
missionary and his superintendent even wrote to ask if he was to be
paid the same rate as his colleagues. No-one could deny that the
work was prospering in his hands and the only complaint to reach
England was about 'his ways' though he was perhaps a little foolish
in making an uncomplimentary remark about the superintendent's
wife's pastry!! One suspects that 'native' ministers were viewed
with some prejudice and suspicion and sadly, in June 1869, he
resigned from Methodism mentioning the difficulties in relationships
with his colleagues and the "stiffness and harshness" of some of the
Methodist officials he had met in England. There were those in his
congregations, particularly the Spanish speakers, who wished him to
stay and in fact he was then ordained into the Anglican Church by
the Bishop of Kingston, Jamaica and returned to Corosal to work for
the Anglicans! However, a year later the mission was given up and he
moved to Barbados and later worked in Ponce in Puerto Rico. He then
went to England and served as a curate in Chatham from 1876 to 1878.
After that he disappears from the British records and one can only
speculate about what happened to him. He may have died, left the
Anglican church or returned to work abroad.
However, his influence lived on for in 1868 a revolution took place
in Spain which granted a degree of religious toleration and those
Spanish exiles who had remained in Gibraltar returned to Spain.
Alhama founded a church in Granada and Cabrera one in Seville. In
1874 Cabrera moved to Madrid and in 1880 when the Spanish Reformed
Episcopal Church was formed he became its first bishop.