A church that is the heartbeat of a historic African Nova Scotian community on the outskirts of Dartmouth will celebrate its 174th anniversary with a literally historic event on Sunday.

After the songs are sung, prayers are said and Bible scriptures read, a panel of historians, community leaders, elders and youth will record and catalog the rich, oral history of the East Preston United Baptist Church, the community and its families.

Rev. LeQuita Porter

Rev. LeQuita Porter says it's important to preserve the stories that tell the history of the East Preston community. (East Preston United Baptist Church)

Some of the families can trace their roots to the area back to the late 1700s.

"We've got to take advantage of the fact that many people are sitting on a lot of information," said Rev. LeQuita Porter.

"And, although there have been some projects in the community where the youth have gone around and interviewed some of the elderly, the senior saints of the community, there hasn't been a concerted effort to pull all of that together so that we can get a better picture of the whole history, at least based on the memories that we have here."

The church was one of the black churches founded by Rev. Richard Preston, a freed slave who came to Nova Scotia from Virginia in the early 1800s in search of his mother. The two were separated by the American slave trade, but reunited here.

Preserving the community's history

Porter said it's critically important to preserve these stories. And to do that, the church has transformed its chapel into a library to archive the community's history.

"We want to be sure that we get as much as is possible from the people who know it," she said.

This church's ministry extends beyond the four walls of the building.

It has support groups for caregivers and people dealing with abuse. Plus, its outreach ministry team serves Thanksgiving meals to residents who are homebound or live alone.

'Shaped in the church'

As she looks forward, Porter wants her church to have an impact the lives of young people.

"We're always thinking about them because many of us were raised in the church, we were shaped in the church, we were educated in the church and we want to be sure that we're giving that same kind of wealth to our young people that we received," she said.

East Preston United Baptist Church youth

The East Preston United Baptist Church especially wants to have a positive impact on the lives of its youth members. (East Preston United Baptist Church)

A special anniversary choir, made up of members of the church's four choirs, will also sing on Sunday.

The service begins at 10 a.m. and all are welcome.