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Madge Saunders: Church leader and community development worker

Black and white scan of the cover of a pamphlet for Madge Saunders ordination, 1966.
The cover of the pamphlet produced by St James' church for the ordination of Madge Saunders in January 1966 Image courtesy of Barry Swift

Madge Saunders was born in Jamaica and came to live in Burngreave in 1965 at a time when the African Caribbean community was becoming established in the area. Many of them, whilst searching for homes, jobs and even churches to worship in, experienced racism and prejudice. At the invitation of the minister of St James United Reformed Church, Madge came to work alongside him to build greater understanding amongst the congregation towards the newly arriving immigrants. What was remarkable about her was that in the 1960s it was quite unique for a black woman to hold such a position within the church. This was a radical reversal of the colonial missionary culture.

During her ten year stay she made quite a mark in Sheffield. She lived and worked in Burngreave, focusing on the welfare of children and families. She held classes for black children in her flat, organised family worship sessions and even set up advice sessions for immigrants which was quite a controversial thing at the time. She also became well known in the city, speaking regularly on BBC Radio Sheffield and joining the Race Relations Committee. When she decided to return to Jamaica in 1975, a reception was held at the town hall in her honour. She was presented with a pair of Sheffield-made scissors which she still treasures at home.