British Methodist Episcopal Church
The church was the most important institution in most Black communities. Church leaders were often spokespersons to the larger community. The denominations were usually Baptist or Methodist. Baptist congregations encouraged a democratic participation by the election of their ministers. Black Methodists, coldly received in White congregations, turned to the African Methodist Episcopal church, which entered the colony from the United States in 1838 and by 1840 had organized an Upper Canada Conference. The Conference was instrumental in supplying the church with ministers and sending bishops occasionally to oversee its work. In 1856, feelings arose that reforms had to take place, and an independent British Methodist Episcopal Church was formed.
Although seldom mentioned in the press, the British Methodist Episcopal congregation (or "Colored Methodists" as they were usually called) had an interesting history. The original congregation had been made up of escaped slaves, but after the America Civil War, a considerable number of immigrants from other areas appear to have joined the original group. The Town of Guelph Directory for 1873 shows their "place of worship on Market Street and entered from Essex Street. Pastor Rev. Johnson. Trustees Louis Bolden, William Thomas, Eli Buckner".
A British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church was started in Guelph in 1870, in a frame building on Market Street. Rev. Thomas Jefferson was pastor. The original congregation was comprised of former fugitive slaves from the United States. On September 18, 1880, numerous citizens gathered to witness the laying of the cornerstone of the new stone church on Essex Street. The 1882-83 Guelph City Directory described the church as a "stone building, in course of completion but sufficiently advanced to enable public services to be held in it; when finished it will have a seating capacity of 300. The estimated cost of the building is $2,000". The BME church offered public services at 11 am and 6:30 pm, as well as a Sabbath School at 3 pm. Prayer meetings were held every Thursday and the Rev. Junius B. Roberts presided over the church's 40 members. The Essex Street BME church, like others in Ontario, was said to represent a new life for former fugitive slaves and their families. Rev. Davis, the current minister, believes that the congregation has "a new chance to say the efforts of 1880 were not in vain. A lot of things associated with Blacks were destroyed - this church was preserved".
The census of 1881 gives a total coloured population of 107. An historian writing in 1927 gave this summary of the congregation's development:
The BME congregation erected their present stone edifice, situated on Essex in 1880. During the pastorate of Rev. Dr. Oliver, the parsonage was built and occupied. Rev. Minter, when he took charge, reorganized the church. He also had the church renovated, and the present organ installed. Rev. Drake held the first conference of the BME Church ever held in Ontario, in 1895. Rev. King held the second conference in 1903...
Throughout the following years this church has made steady progress from 1917 to 1927, although that progress and growth has been retarded by several families removing to other cities.
Ministers (dates approx.)
1870 Thomas Jefferson
1873 Henry Johnson
JOHNSON, Henry H. was born in 1806 in Ontario, Methodist Episcopal, 1851 Bay of Quinte, 1871 Brighton Tp. (Northumberland), 1873 BME Essex St. Guelph (Wellington Co.)
1880 Junius B. Roberts
1881 B.C. Moore
MOORE, B.C. was born in the United States, Methodist Episcopal, 1876 Trecastle Maryborough (Wellington Co.), 1867-1877 Embro West Zorra Twp.(Oxford Co.), 1881 BME Essex St. Guelph (Wellington Co.)
1883 Thomas Collins
COLLINS, Thomas Methodist Episcopal, 1875-1876 Merlin (London), 1883 BME Essex Street - Guelph (Wellington Co.)
1885 D. Andrew Miller
MILLER, D. Andrew was born in 1826 in Ontario, Methodist Episcopal, 1871 Belleville (Hastings Co.), 1885 BME Essex Street - Guelph (Wellington Co.)
1887 Rev. Townsend
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Created and maintained by: Ken Russell
Last Updated 09/02/02