British Methodist Episcopal Church
|British Methodist Episcopal Church|
|Diocese||African Methodist Episcopal Church|
The AMEC had been formed in 1816 when a number of black congregations banded together under the leadership of Richard Allen, and by the mid-1850s it had seven conferences in the United States. AMEC preachers began to work in Upper Canada in 1834, and a conference was formed in 1840.
Reverend Benjamin Stewart of Chatham, Ontario proposed that the AME churches in the Canadas separate from the American association and form their own church. At an AME conference in Philadelphia in 1856, Stewart's proposal was adopted and the new church association was founded. The new church was named the British Methodist Episcopal Church in appreciation of finding a safe haven from slavery in British North America.
Its first bishop was Reverend Willis Nazrey of Virginia. When Nazrey died in 1875, Disney was chosen as his successor, and he was ordained by an AMEC bishop that year. His administrative area consisted of Ontario, Nova Scotia, Bermuda, the West Indies, and British Guiana (Guyana).
By the end of the 1870s the BMEC had 56 congregations with about 3,100 members, most of its members being in the Danish West Indies and British Guiana. However, the mission work outside Canada stretched the church’s funds, and in 1880 Disney negotiated a reunion with the AMEC, which was ratified at a BMEC convention held at Hamilton in June 1881. A referendum of members showed that although a majority in Ontario was opposed, 86 per cent of the membership was in favour. Disney was accepted as an AMEC bishop and was assigned to its Tenth Episcopal District, a region embracing his former territory and some of the AMEC churches in Canada that had not joined the BMEC.
A majority of the Ontario churches and preachers, led by the Reverend Walter Hawkins of Chatham, sought to re-establish the BMEC. This group feared the loss of their distinctive identity, and may have been concerned that the opinions of Ontario members had been overwhelmed by those of the Caribbean groups.
In 1886 this group held an ecclesiastical council at Chatham, at which it was claimed that Disney had defected to the AMEC. At a subsequent general conference that year the BMEC was reconstituted. The conference deposed Disney, agreeing to “erase his name and ignore his authority, and cancel his official relationship as bishop.” The reconstituted BMEC elected Hawkins as its general superintendent, avoiding the title of bishop for several years.
Disney continued with what was left of his AMEC district until 1888, when he was transferred to Arkansas and Mississippi.
By 1898 the BMEC had 27 preaching points and 25 preachers, the AMEC 130 churches in Canada. The two denominations continue their separate work to this day.
Two BMEC churches have been designated National Historic Sites of Canada due to their roles in welcoming Underground Railroad refugees to Canada and their historic importance to the Black community in the Niagara region: one in Niagara Falls, Ontario, named in honour of Robert Nathaniel Dett, and the Salem Chapel, British Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Catharines due to its association with Harriet Tubman.
- Reverend Willis Nazrey (1856-1875)
- Bishop Richard Randolph Disney (1875-
- R. Nathaniel Dett British Methodist Episcopal Church, Directory of Designations of National Historic Significance of Canada
- R. Nathaniel Dett British Methodist Episcopal Church, National Register of Historic Places
- Salem Chapel, British Methodist Episcopal Church, Directory of Designations of National Historic Significance of Canada
- Salem Chapel, British Methodist Episcopal Church, National Register of Historic Places
- Windsor Mosaic
- Dictionary of Canadian Biography
- Ontario Heritage Trust Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church
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