That’s the word from the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church of Canada to members of the North Buxton Community Church.
The church group has to vacate their church by the end of the month.
Church member Bryan Prince said he was stunned when he heard the decision by the BME Conference to force the members of the North Buxton Community Church to leave the building at the end of the month.
“It’s just unbelievable. It’s heartbreaking,” he said.
As a result, Sunday will be their last day of worship in the 151-year-old venue.
According to parishioners David and Joyce Middleton, the BME Conference – the organization that oversees all BME churches in Canada – has an alternative use planned for the church.
David said the North Buxton Community Church left the BME Conference in 2003, due to a difference of opinion. Both sides hired lawyers, the ownership of the church was discussed, but after some back and forth communication over the matter, it was dropped.
But recently, the administration of the conference changed, and the issue resurfaced.
“We were approached, and they indicated the conference owned the church,” David said. “We were given three options – rejoin the BME Conference, lease the church, or vacate.
“We met to see if we could work out some of the wrinkles. It didn’t work out well.”
In fact, it went so poorly that the option to lease was revoked.
After the local group investigated the ownership issue and were advised they had little ground on which to stand, it returned to seek the opportunity to purchase the church and adjoining cemetery property.
“We asked if we could purchase. We were turned down,” Joyce said. “We asked if we could lease it. We were turned down.”
She said the North Buxton group didn’t initially take up the offer of the lease, as it instead pursued the possibility of ownership.
When that failed, they reverted to the lease concept and were met with shaking heads.
“We were never given a reason. It was just taken off the table,” David said.
Joyce said it was about that time that the local group learned the BME Conference had an alternative use for the property.
Prince said he wonders what the alternate use would be.
“Who would want the Buxton Church other than Buxton people? We just don’t understand what their motivation could be,” he said.
Dr. Chester Searles, general superintendent for the BME Conference of Canada, did not return calls from The Voice.
But previously published reports indicate the BME Conference could use it for religious retreats.
David said the loss of the use of the church is a blow to the community, but isn’t the end of the world.
“We have space in a community room at the museum and we have an outdoor pavilion we can utilize in the summer,” he said.
That museum, according to Prince, whose wife Shannon is the museum’s curator, may have been part of what piqued the BME Conference’s interest in the property.
“They thought the museum and park, which is on the adjacent property, belonged to the church. They thought they’d be getting that as well,” he said. “We told them, for the second time, they weren’t getting the museum.”
The BME movement actually began in Chatham-Kent in the 1850s. Rev. Benjamin Stewart of Chatham proposed that the AME churches in Canada separate from the U.S. association and form their own church. That proposal was granted in 1856.
At one time, the local church trustees actually owned the church, but in 1913, the ministerial for the BME Conference of Canada “wrote up a discipline and vested all of the BME churches in Canada under their umbrella,” David said. “It gave them ownership of the properties.
The final North Buxton Community Church service inside the church takes place Sunday at 11 a.m. The congregation invites anyone to attend.
“Please join us as a tribute to our forebears, many of whom were slaves and the children of slaves, who built the church and established the cemetery over a century and a half ago. It will be a special occasion to reflect on personal memories of christenings, marriages, funerals, Sunday School concerts, fellowship in the hall, spiritual awakenings and countless other profound experiences,” a media release stated.