Congregation ordered to leave 160-year-old church connected to Underground Railroad
North Buxton church goers must leave by end of month to make way for retreat centre
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.
"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."
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.
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:
"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 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."