Har­riet Tub­man’s Cana­dian church seeks help for re­pairs

South Florida Times - - PRAYERFUL LIVING - Har­riet Tub­man By ADELLE M. BANKS Cour­tesy of Re­li­gion News Ser­vice Please Note: This ar ticle has been slightly edited for brevity and clar ity.

A cen­tury and a half ago, a new Cana­dian church gave flee­ing slaves a place to wor­ship. Now the sanc­tu­ary that wel­comed Un­der­ground Rail­road con­duc­tor Har­riet Tub­man and other es­capees needs help it­self.

The dwin­dling mem­ber­ship of Salem Chapel, a Bri­tish Methodist Epis­co­pal (BME) church just north of Ni­a­gara Falls, has started a crowd­sourc­ing cam­paign in hopes of rais­ing $100,000 – the equiv­a­lent of $77,486 in U.S. cur­rency.

The con­gre­ga­tion wants to shore up the build­ing, which is in an area where heavy traf­fic has con­trib­uted to its shift­ing foun­da­tion.

Ded­i­cated in 1855 by run­away slaves and free blacks, the church needs ca­ble wires to se­cure the log frame of the build­ing ahead of ex­pected nearby con­struc­tion and wants to re­place parts of the build­ing that are de­te­ri­o­rat­ing or dam­aged.

Salem Chapel is in St. Catharines, On­tario, a spot known as an end point of the Un­der­ground Rail­road, the mul­ti­pronged clan­des­tine route through which slaves es­caped to free­dom. Some of the peo­ple Tub­man helped es­cape be­came mem­bers of the church.

Rochelle Bush, one of the 11 re­main­ing mem­bers who launched the cam­paign, is the great-great-great-grand­daugh­ter of the Rev. James Harper, who was the min­is­ter in charge of the con­gre­ga­tion when Tub­man at­tended and when it changed its af­fil­i­a­tion from the African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church to BME. “We be­came Bri­tish Methodist Epis­co­pal in 1856 be­cause no­body wanted to go back for con­fer­ence (in the United States) be­cause of the fugi­tive slave laws,” Bush said, adding that about 10 churches in On­tario re­main Bri­tish Methodist Epis­co­pal and con­sider the AME Church their par­ent or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Af­ter the Civil War, the church, which be­gan with 195 mem­bers, be­gan to dwin­dle as mem­bers re­turned across the bor­der, de­creas­ing to about 40 in 1970.

Most of its mem­bers now are age 80 and older.

The con­gre­ga­tion, which con­tin­ues to meet for wor­ship each Sun­day with a pas­tor and a pian­ist, has been sus­tained by tourists, who in­creased from about 2,500 an­nu­ally to 4,000 this year, Bush said.

Vis­i­tors pay a $5 ad­mis­sion to learn about “the who’s who in the abo­li­tion­ist move­ment” – in­clud­ing Fred­er­ick Dou­glass and John Brown – who vis­ited the church.

“That’s what helps us keep the church doors open and it pays the bills through­out the win­ter sea­son,” she said.

But now, the church’s mem­bers say they need more as­sis­tance to keep their build­ing avail­able f or fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“(W)e want to en­sure that it con­tin­ues to serve as a re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion and be­cause it is an im­por­tant trea­sure in North Amer­i­can his­tory,” they said.

To do­nate to the Salem Chapel, visit www.go­fundme.com/pre­serv­ing-salem­chapel.



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