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Beth Emanuel Church

Short History of Beth Emanuel BME Church.

  • 1786: African Methodist earliest meetings
  • 1816: Established independence from mainstream Methodist
  • 1847: First church in London, Ontario
  • 1856: Became British Methodist Episcopal
  • 1869: Moved to 430 Grey St
  • 1983: Ontario Heritage Act designation June 6,
  • Now:
    • Community Meals every Thursday
    • Every Sunday Prayer at 9am, Teaching at 10am, Worship at 11am
    • Prayer 7am on Weekdays
    • Prayer 7 am and 7 pm on Saturdays

        Beginning about 1786 Richard Allen started holding prayer meetings for the African Methodist.

        In November 1787, Richard Allen and a number of other black Methodists arrived at St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend Sunday services. They were directed toward a newly built seating gallery, and mistakenly sat in its "white" section. During a prayer, white ushers pulled the black worshippers to their feet and demanded that they sit in the "proper" section. Humiliated, Allen — a former slave from Delaware who had joined the evangelical Wesleyan movement because of its work against slavery and who eventually became a licensed Methodist preacher — and several others left the church at the prayer's end. "They were no more plagued with us in the church," he later said.

        In 1784 Richard Allen purchased a blacksmith shop with his own money and converted it into a storefront church. Methodist Bishop Frances Asbury named it the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Thus the African Methodist Episcopal Church was born.

        April 16, 1816 the African Methodist became legally independent of the Main body of Methodist. Richard Allen became its first Bishop after the elected bishop Daniel Coker declined the position.

London, Ontario

        In 1847, land was bought for the African Methodist Episcopal Church in London. At that time it was also referred to as the Fugitive Slave Chapel. The building was located at 275 Thames Street and the congregation worshipped there from 1848 to 1869. It became the British Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856.

        After the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, it became increasingly dangerous for African Canadian church officials to travel to the annual conferences of the AME Church in the United States. Desiring a more accessible church government closer to home members of the AME Church in Canada began to lobby for local self-government of their church. In 1856 they succeeded and, anxious to underscore allegiance to their new homeland they named it the British Methodist Episcopal Church. A former AME minister, the Reverend Willis Nazery, was elected as its first bishop. The BME Church continued the growth begun under the AME, establishing congregations not only in Upper Canada but also in Nova Scotia, Bermuda, the West Indies, and British Guiana (Guyana).

        The London congregation built the present white-brick, Gothic Revival structure at 430 Grey Street between 1868 and 1871. In later years, the building was raised for the construction of a basement. On June 6th, 1983 it was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Beth Emanuel Then and Now

        In the mid 1800’s the Underground Railroad brought many fugitive slaves from the Southern USA to London, Ontario. Many of these had been members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1847 the congregation of Beth Emanuel AME built their first Church building giving the new immigrants a place to worship. Thus the Church helped the fugitives to settle into their new community. The horrors these people lived through we can’t even imagine. You can read the story of an escaped fugitive slave at http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/jbrown/jbrown.html to get an inkling of what they went through.

        Not everyone who escaped made it to freedom. Many were recaptured and many died in the effort to become free. Yet death was better than what they had to face in slavery.

        Punishment for any perceived shortcoming could be very severe, and should it cause death, the slave master was completely free of any legal repercussions. If a slave stopped for a second to stretch his or her back while working in the cotton fields, a severe flogging may follow, or a slave may be whipped just for the amusement of his master. Slaves were considered as livestock and breeding would be done for the advantage of the master. Sometimes he would himself act as the stud. Again, since he owned the slave he could pretty much do as he pleased. Laws were in place to protect the slave masters. They were legally entitled to beat a slave to death, but a death sentence could be imposed on any slave who even caused a slight injury to his master.

        Now perhaps we can get a glimpse of the emotional and psychological state to these refugees that came to London in the mid 1800’s. Here they face prejudice and discrimination. They were still considered second class citizens, but at least they were free. Although the law provided for equal rights, the legal system was run by whites who were often prejudiced. Your guilt or innocence was often determined by your colour.

        Having said that, it would be prejudice for me to assume that all whites would act in this way. There were many who risked their own lives and some were killed in the effort to bring justice to an oppressed people. The law in the south provided for severe punishment for anyone caught aiding a fugitive slave; still many whites would venture into the south to give instruction to the slaves on how to escape.

        Among the black population there were also many heroes and many villains. Many escaped slaves risked recapture or death to return to the south in order to help others escape. One of these became known as the black Moses. You can read about her at this link. inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blharriettubman

        While these heroes risked their lives, others would help their masters recapture runaways for a promise of money or their own freedom. They were often duped by their masters who had no intention of honouring the bargain.

        In the mid to late 1800’s, Beth Emanuel Church was a place where fugitive slaves could meet in freedom. They brought industry and professions to London and were a big part of shaping the London we see today. After 165 years, Beth Emanuel Church is still a meeting place for those who want to be free.

        Today Beth is helping a new kind of fugitive. In modern society we see a widening gap between rich and poor and people from all walks of life becoming slaves to various addictions. Whether it is and addiction to a maladaptive behaviour or substance abuse, Beth is there to help the victims break free.

        The Thursday evening Meal program see up to 100 people per week come for a great meal at no cost to them. Not only do they get food, but they also have a chance to socialize with other patrons and volunteer staff. Everyone is treated with love and respect and individuals who have lost their identities can feel they are real people created in the image of God.

        Heart 2 Heart Counselling Services has offices in the Church Manse and helps those who have become slaves to addictions, relationship problems, grief or maladaptive behaviour.

        Spiritual needs are met by workshops, prayer, bible teaching and worship.

Events at Beth

Prayer:

        Workshops on various subjects are offered from time to time. The most recent one known as “Holy Spirit Workshop” finished on February 29th, 2012.

BETH EMANUEL CHURCH

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