The history of a church cannot be separated from the story of the people, and of the community that built it, and worshipped in it. It is the story of their support and care for each other, and of their efforts to share the gospel message.
This church, and all the other churches of Buxton, were envisioned by Rev. William King in his dream of the “City of God” that would result from his labours, on behalf of the fugitives arriving in Canada West. As both the architect, and the shepherd of the new community, Rev. King planned that one of the cornerstones for his “City of God” would be a strong religious foundation. This, along with education, family values, and a strong economic base would assure that his flock become self- sufficient. The central and most essential institutions in Buxton and in other early black communities were the church and the school.These gathering places were what gave the people a sense of community, and provided instruction, spiritual comfort, opportunities for socialization, protection, and a sense of well-being to the people. Only two of those have survived and been in continual use throughout the years of the existence of Buxton - this church and St. Andrews in South Buxton.The first church service in Buxton, amongst the newly freedmen, was held almost 157 years ago, on Sunday December 2nd, 1849, just four days after the arrival of Rev. King and his 15 former slaves. It was held in the district schoolhouse, after a conflict with neighbours, who wanted to bar the group from the school, was solved by a kindly neighbour woman.
Although Rev. King was a Presbyterian Minister, and the pastor at the Buxton Mission Church, he did not discourage the people from setting up churches of other denominations. Within a couple of years, both the Baptist and the Methodist denominations, which had established a presence among the freedmen, were being celebrated within the settlement. Each new church built, was a labour of love and of community, as the people of Buxton banned together to erect buildings for worship, and to the glory of God.This building in which we continue to worship was not the first of the Methodist faith in Buxton. It was preceded by the First Union Methodist Church located in South Buxton. The only thing that remains of that church today is a small cemetery plot, with a few old tombstones, hidden amongst the trees and undergrowth on the Middle Road just east of South Buxton.
In 1854 at the AME Conference in Chatham, Rev. Benjamin Stewart offered a resolution for the AME Churches in Canada West to separate from the AME Churches in the United States. The African Methodist Church, founded in Philadelphia in 1816, had been active in Canada since 1826, with congregations in Toronto, Chatham, Amherstburg, Hamilton, Brantford, Niagara Falls, St. David, Malden, Queen’s Bush and Dresden. The churches in Canada West argued that “the separation was needful in order that the British Church might be in harmony with British Law.” The Buxton Church which was organized in 1855 by Rev. Thomas Stringer had a brief existence as an affiliate of the African Methodist Church, but by 1856, Rev. Stewart’s resolution to separate from the AME conference was adopted, and the British Methodist Conference became official. The Buxton Church was one of the founding member churches of this conference. By 1864, there is said to have been 42 BME congregations and over 3,000 members being served by 60 preachers. Under the leadership, of the first Bishop - Willis Nazrey, the BME Church flourished in Canada West, and spread to Eastern Canada.
The first building of the British Methodist Church here in North Buxton, was probably located near the present building, with Rev. Thomas Stringer as the first pastor. It is my understanding that this church, founded by Rev. Thomas Stringer, burned to the ground. The building that replaced it was started in 1866 with communal labour from Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians alike. On February 21, 1866, the deed for this property was conveyed to the trustees of the Bethel Congregation of the BME Church. The 9 and one half acres was sold by Jacob and Hannah Gunn for the sum of one hundred dollars. For the next several years to the end of the century the congregation was involved in completing construction and furnishing their church, as well as a stable, or drive shed, an out house, and a parsonage. Various fundraisers were carried out to finance the building, with special services, including an Old Folks Concert, plays, envelope rallies, open air concerts, lawn socials, and bush meetings. A tax levy, rental of pews and leasing church property to a church member were also used to raise the necessary funds.
The first building of the British Methodist Church here in North Buxton, was probably located near the present building, with Rev. Thomas Stringer as the first pastor. It is my understanding that this church, founded by Rev. Stringer, burned to the ground. The building that replaced it was started in 1866 with communal labour from Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians alike. On February 21, 1866, the deed for this property was conveyed to the trustees of the Bethel Congregation of the BME Church. The 9 and one half acres was sold by Jacob and Hannah Gunn for the sum of one hundred dollars. For the next several years to the end of the century the congregation was involved in completing construction and furnishing their church, as well as a stable, or drive shed, an out house, and a parsonage. Various fundraisers were carried out to finance the building, with special services, including an Old Folks Concert, plays, envelope rallies, open air concerts, lawn socials, and bush meetings. A tax levy, rental of pews and leasing church property to a church member were also used to raise the necessary funds.
Early ministers in Buxton included Reverend Benjamin Stewart, Rev. S. H Brown, and Rev. Richard Randolph Disney. Many other ministers were members of local families, including Rev. Walter Toyer, Rev. Samuel Jones, and Rev. W.R. Drake. The Congregation in Buxton, which started with 30 members, had grown to 299 by the time of the Civil War. Of course Buxton’s population was at its peak at that time, but there were also several other churches in the community. Even though Buxton’s Methodist church was affected negatively by the Civil War even more than other denominations in the community, its congregation continued to survive, and remained one of the larger churches in the B.M.E. Conference for many years. The people of the early Buxton Settlement may not have had the most ornate churches, but our ancestors were a deeply religious people, who showed their religious commitment in many ways, and certainly improved their spiritual condition in freedom.
From the late 1860’s until the late 1880’s controversy raged about whether or not the BME Conference would re-join with the AME Conference. By this time the BME conference was sending out missionaries and starting churches in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, St Thomas, Bermuda, and in South America, and reported having 2,684 members, 77 ministers, 4 missionaries in the islands, 37 Sabbath schools, 1727 scholars, 156 officers and teachers. It is interesting to note that one of the AME Bishops commented on the Mission work being done by the BME conference, while the AME connection which was much larger, had not one missionary in the field. Bishops and ministers from both the AME and the BME took sides, with the AME Conference being more positive about the possibility of a merger. A majority vote was required of both conferences to make the merge possible, which never happened. The Buxton church of course had a voice in that controversy; on which side we can only guess.
By 1909 the membership of the Buxton church was 98. Throughout the recorded minutes of the early twentieth century, the church had as many as 7 stewards including 2 who were appointed Minister’s Stewarts, one who took care of the poor, 8 trustees, and 5 class leaders. The class leaders were to hold classes with their group of parishioners, and instruct them, reprimanding them for inappropriate conduct. They reported on the condition of their charges at each meeting.
Although the cemetery was in use as early as 1855, it was not until 1924 that the cemetery plots were sold and the first trustees of the cemetery elected. Other groups active in the church throughout this time period included the Pastor’s aid, Women’s Council, Ladies Aid, Sunshine Club, Stewardess Board, and the choir. By 1925, the pastor was being paid $13 a week. Even this amount was sometimes a challenge for the people to meet, and for a while the pastor was paid 70 % of what the church took in. At one point in 1928 when the 78 members were still having trouble paying a minister, Brother Fred Robbins was licensed to preach by Superintendent Rev. Wright. In 1929 some of the members wanted to put a basement under the church, but instead they opted to buy the Trinity Church on the Fifth Concession which was no longer in use. By 1832 that church was moved to the property, and fixed up to be used as a hall. By this time the pastor’s pay was down to $6 a week, and by 1933 the congregation had voted to stop using the gas in the church to save money. They went back to using the wood stove with members donating the wood. Also in 1933, the church belonged to a Federation of Coloured Churches and sent delegates to Federation meetings. Things must have started to turn around by 1934, because they were able to build a garage for the minister’s car, were renting out the hall for $5.00, and paying the janitor $1.00 from each rental, and once again the minister was getting 70 % of all church revenue, except for Federation Sunday when he got 50%. In 1935, they were unable to afford to send a delegate to conference and owed the pastor Rev. Johnston much of his salary. Before going to conference where he would be re-appointed, however Rev. Johnson returned the salary owing to the church, by telling them they he did not wish to hold them to paying him. By 1937 the membership was down to 62. By 1977 membership was down to 39.
Other Pastors in charge of the BME Church in Buxton included Rev. J. Hall, Elder Washington, Rev. R.R. Ball, and Rev. R.L Holden. Rev. C.A. Jones, Rev. T. H. Jackson, Rev. Jacob M Lawson, Rev. L. W. Johnston, Rev. Lewis, Rev. Wright, and Rev. W. Perry. Those that I can remember include Rev. E.A. Richardson, Rev. B.A. Gearo, Rev. Addie Aylestock, Rev. George Crawford, Rev. Larry Johnston, and of course Rev. Douglas BirseWho can forget the sermon Rev. Birse gave one Sunday morning about the state of our church and our obligation to our forefathers to continue their legacy by caring for what they started? That sermon began a series of improvements to our church building beginning with the renovation inside the church.
In 1999, again with communal labour, and much fundraising, the old hall was torn down and a beautiful new hall built on that site. In September 2003, E. A. Richardson BME Church withdrew from the BME Conference of Canada. We were incorporated under the name of the North Buxton Community Church, a non-denominational church which continues to serve the community of North Buxton. And most recently we have given our church building a new old look with the new siding and windows.
Our church, first known briefly as Bethel AME Church of Buxton, then as Bethel BME Church, later changed to E.A. Richardson BME Church after Rev. Richardson who pastored here from 1943 to 1947 , and is now known as The North Buxton Community Church. Today, with a membership of about 35, we celebrate one hundred and fifty years as a congregation in the community of Buxton, one hundred and forty years as a congregation in this building, three years as a congregation known as the North Buxton Community Church and twenty years service of our Pastor Rev. Douglas Birse and his wife Carol in Buxton. We still strive to provide a strong religious foundation so desired for the people by Buxton’s first shepherd, and we continue to function as the last remaining institution in Buxton providing a sense of community for the people, and above all we continue to spread the gospel message to all who will hear. We have been so very blessed.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.