Windsor·Audio

Congregation ordered to leave 160-year-old church connected to Underground Railroad

Members of the North Buxton Community Church, a church steeped in black history, will have to find a new place to hold their Sunday services and community events.

North Buxton church goers must leave by end of month to make way for retreat centre

This is what the North Buxton church looks like now. The 157-year-old building has to be vacated by the end of the month. (Submitted by Joyce Middleton)

Members of the North Buxton Community Church, a church in southwestern Ontario steeped in black history, will have to find a new place to hold their Sunday services and community events. 

The British Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada, which owns the property, has ordered them out, say members of the congregation.

"When you think of the people — this was home," said David Middleton, a member since 1942.

"The place that was the root of their families, the root of the community and when you see that taken away from you, that's hard. That's very, very hard."

In 2003, the church congregation decided to break away from the British Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada (BMEC) because they felt the denomination no longer served their community.

A portrait shows school children who attended class at the North Buxton church in its early days. (CBC)

"We decided for the benefit of the community we would be better served working as a community church," said Middleton. He said "it wasn't a big issue" at the time, although lawyers were brought in by the British Methodist's administration. 

"And then it was kind of dropped, but the administration changed so it's come back again."

'Splinter' congregation

Michael Czuma, lawyer for the BMEC, said his client had been seeking a court order to remove the group but they settled on moving out by the end of June.

Czuma said they've been trying to reach an agreement since the group broke off — and there's been a bunch of "contentious" and "unpleasant" meetings between the two.

The church was started in the 1850s but built in 1866. The community church has proposed to buy the building or even rent it, but those options were taken off the table. (Submitted by Buxton Historical Society)

He calls them a "small breakaway splinter church" of about 30 people.

"We just haven't been able to deal with these people. Their view is that they've been looking after it. They don't want to follow any of our rules," said Czuma. 

"That wasn't a position that we were prepared to accept."

The BMEC will also takeover the cemetery and plans to use the church building as a retreat centre. They won't be seeking any legal costs.

Steeped in history

Outside the church, the pristinely kept cemetery grounds include ancestors of many current-day churchgoers. Many of those people were black slaves coming to Canada, fleeing persecution.

The church was started in the 1850s but built in 1866. Middleton said the building's history is "very important" to the Buxton Settlement.

Hear more from Middleton on CBC's Windsor Morning:

A small congregation in North Buxton has been ordered out of the church it's called home for more than 100 years. Members of the North Buxton Community Church have been caretakers of the local Black history. But now they must leave by the end of the month. David Middleton is a member of the North Buxton congregation - he has been since 1942. He explains why. 8:06

"It tears at your heart. It's disturbing. It's hurtful," he said, thinking of having to leave the church and cemetery behind.

Czuma argues its the BMEC who are the "rightful keeper of the history." 

"I don't know why they are a better organization to look after that," he said of the current group.

The cemetery of the church holds some very old grave sites of black Canadians who were slaves. (CBC)

The community church proposed to buy the building or even rent it, but those options were taken off the table, said Middleton.

"The North Buxton Community Church is people. We'll continue."

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