Highland AME set to celebrate special milestone
© Darrell Cole – Amherst Daily News
Rev. Christine Slaughter looks over an electronic copy of a 48-page souvenir journal created to mark the 140th anniversary of the Highland AME Church in Amherst. A special celebration is planned for Sunday at the Church Street facility.
AMHERST – It’s a celebration 140 years in the making.
Members of the Highland African Methodist Episcopal congregation will come together Sunday at 4 p.m. to celebrate the church’s 140th birthday while honouring some of those who figured prominently in keeping the church alive in Amherst through trying times.
“We are going to be celebrating four members of the church for everything they have done. Three of them are deceased and one of them is still living,” Rev. Christine Slaughter said. “We will be unveiling a plaque in their honour. There are have many who have stood within the doors of this church and there are those who have made numerous contributions and sacrifices for the church. They are the reason this church is still here.”
Those being honoured include George Izzard, Ruth Henry, Beryl Harper and Dorothy Jones, who will turn 100 years old in December.
Izzard donated the land where the existing church sits, while Harper, the organist and choir director, put together the O Happy Day Campaign that led to the sod-turning ceremony in 1970.
During the 15-year period when there was no pastor, Henry, Harper and Jones helped maintain the church building.
“For 15 years we didn’t have a pastor here and these people paid for the upkeep of the church, including the oil to heat the building and the snow removal,” Slaughter said. “Those three faithful looked after this building so we could be here today to celebrate this church’s contribution to our community.”
The ceremonies will include a worship services as well as a speech by educator and community activist Robert Upshaw. From Halifax, Upshaw recently retired as vice-principal of Cole Harbour District High School. He has 30 years experience in community development and educational leadership. He has worked hard to preserve African Nova Scotian heritage and culture through education.
The service will also include a performance by the Africamani Children’s Choir of Moncton.
A 48-page souvenir booklet has also been produced for the occasion. The booklet features a history of the church back to first congregation on Poplar Street in 1873.
“For this church to still be here after 140 with all the challenges it has faced is such an accomplishment and a commitment for the few that continue to come to church and worship,” Slaughter said. “I don’t get caught up in numbers and I do believe if there’s two or three God is in our midst. I’m very encouraged and thankful for the members I do have because they are faithful.”
Highland AME Church
- Started in Amherst in 1873.
- At that time there were 152 persons of African decent, representing 40 families, in the area.
- AMEC churches were located in Halifax, Amherst, Yarmouth, Shelburne, Saint John, Woodstock and Fredericton. Amherst is the only left east of Montreal.
- Deed for 35 Poplar Street was signed July 19, 1877 by Rev. J.W. Crosby.
- Many activities and sports events were held at the church and in the community. - - - The Harvest Suppers were extremely popular in the community.
- The new Highland AME Church opened in 1972 with Rev. Anna Hunter. Hunter was also one of the founders of the first Amherst day care.
- By 1983, the church faced a dwindling congregation. That and the lack of a full-time pastor led to hard times with Beryl Harper, Ruth Henry and Dorothy Jones paying the bills.
- In 1990, Elizabeth Cooke-Sumbu and Theresa Halfkenny moved back to Amherst and worked to revive the AME church. Rev. Larry Wilson appointed full-time pastor in 2004. Rev. Christine Slaughter arrived in 2010.
- Today there are 12 adults and four young people in the congregation.