London’s first Black church may soon have a new home.
Built in 1848, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, also known as the Fugitive Slave Chapel, was the place of worship for dozens of slaves fleeing the United States to southwestern Ontario via the Underground Railroad network.
In 1869, Beth Emmanuel Church replaced the AME as the meeting place for London’s Black community. With Beth running out of space to serve the community, a plan was created to relocate the old AME church building that faces demolition to a vacant lot besides Beth Emmanuel.
The owner of the uninhabitable structure, Aboutown Transportation, has said he will donate the edifice if it’s relocated and a few individuals and businesses have committed financial resources to help preserve and move the historic chapel.
Last week, Fincore Canada – a London-based innovative wealth planning company – said it would match the $5,000 that heritage activist Joe O’Neill’s parents have pledged.
Beth Emmanuel pastor, Rev. Delta McNeish, welcomes the financial contributions and any other assistance to save the historic church.
“There is an army of people waiting for a chance to make a donation,” she said. “There is also an army of individuals looking into all the financial details and planning the move.”
The cost of moving the building is yet to be ascertained.
The Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project (FSCPP) has been set up to coordinate the move and fundraising.
“This project has taken on a life of its own,” said Jamaican-born McNeish, who spent 42 months in England before relocating to Canada in 1963. “The community of London and the surrounding areas have come to the forefront to do something that time, the history books and each person will see as a God-inspired miracle.
“The hope and challenge of preserving such a rich piece of history will ring clearly through time. This is a community builder and a community effort. Its ability to help erase prejudices, racism and discrimination and bring people together is phenomenal. Imagine a building on this empty lot besides our church that could be placed here for the purpose of connecting and uniting the community.”
Located in an impoverished London neighbourhood, Beth Emmanuel supports the community in numerous ways. The church provides meals to nearly 200 residents weekly, clothing and other necessities.
“Today, we are helping a new kind of fugitive,” said McNeish, who is a certified general practice psychotherapist and marriage counselor. “In modern society, we are seeing a widening gap between the rich and poor and people from all walks of life are becoming slaves to various addictions.
“This building rescued and protected one type of slave in the past. My hope is that enough funds will be here to rescue modern day slaves from addiction and poverty and restore the old chapel to be used as a museum.”
Individuals or organizations interested in helping to save the chapel can send cheques to the Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project at Beth Emmanuel Church, 430 Grey St., London, Ontario, N6B 1H4. Pledges can also be made online at firstname.lastname@example.org.