Ruby Williams first attended East Preston United Baptist Church when her mother took her to a service when she was about five or six years old.
“And I’ve been here ever since,” Williams said.
Williams is also a member of the planning committee for the church’s 180th anniversary celebrations, which took place last weekend.
“We had a fantastic weekend. It started with a spiritual concert on Friday night, we had a fantastic fun day all day Saturday, it was a great time for the whole church, the whole community,” Williams said in an interview with the Halifax Examiner Sunday afternoon following the second of two services.
The morning service was the first time the choir performed inside the church since before the start of COVID pandemic.
At the afternoon service, Williams read the invocation prayer. She was followed by a performance by the Hallelujah Praise Choir from St. Thomas Baptist Church in North Preston.
Church member Brenda Brooks then gave an oral history of East Preston United Baptist Church, which was founded in 1842 by Rev. Richard Preston, who also founded the African United Baptist Association (AUBA).
“The Anglican church, with their proclamation of the faith, gave early religious instruction to Native and Black peoples in the Nova Scotia colonies,” Brooks said. “The Anglican rituals did not appeal to early preachers like David George and Richard Preston, who came with Evangelistic preaching.”
Brooks then named each of the church’s 13 pastors, starting with Preston and ending with the current interim pastor, Andrea Anderson, who was in attendance and gave a sermon at the morning service.
Related: Richard Preston: “The founder of the Black Nova Scotian community”
Anderson took over the role this past Spring from Pastor Joyce Ross, who was also in attendance. Ross served as interim pastor since 2019 when she took over from pastor, Rev. Dr. LeQuita Porter.
“In 2010 the church called Rev. Dr. LeQuita Porter the first female pastor to serve the church,” Brooks said. “Her leadership was a catalyst for positive change. Excellence and education became a key emphasis with a goal to enhance the learning and training of the members and the community.”
In 2014, Porter, her husband Bill, and other partners established the East Preston Empowerment Academy, which helps members of the church and the community with academic upgrading, literacy skills and training, as well as professional development, including trade apprenticeships, Red Seal, and Blue Seal accreditations.
Brooks also talked about reverends who had been ordained through the church, and the church’s junior deacon program that was launched in 2018 as other points of pride and accomplishment.
Related: East Preston Empowerment Academy is changing the careers of Black tradespeople
Pastor Anderson previously served as the assistant pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Hammonds Plains, where she is currently on leave.
“What they asked me to do as the interim pastor is to look at structure, governance, like what are we going to start moving forward,” Anderson said. “I’ve done exercises with them to think about what kind of leader this church needs.”
Anderson said East Preston and the church’s membership have a deep sense of community. She said members will often use their own money to purchase food for events and services, technical equipment for the church, and to support East Preston community members in times of need.
She credits members of the church’s outreach ministry who donate their time every Friday to pick up loaves of bread donated from Cobbs Bakery to members of the East Preston community.
She said they’re also partnering with East Preston Day Care to be able to hold Sunday school for children. Anderson said the plan eventually is to be able to build a brand new building to house the church.
“Everything is ready for it, we just have to raise a few more funds,” she said.
Anderson talked about succession and how it is important to prepare the next generation of church leaders.
“I will say that there is a young man who is from this community that I’m working with right now that I believe that God has potential for him,” she said.
She said the final decision on if she will take over as senior pastor would be up to the church membership.
“They’d have to want me, then they’d have to vote on that,” she said.
Matthew Thomas is from East Preston and is the associate pastor at Deep Water Church in Halifax. Thomas preached the sermon at Sunday’s afternoon service.
Thomas said it’s important to bring more young people into the church and without a plan for eventual succession, “the church dies.”
“I would say the generational gap needs to be closed. There needs to be more young voices at the table, but I don’t think we have the solution yet. I think it’s more about us coming together and seeking it,” he said.
Thomas said the realities and interests of today’s generation of young people differ from those of past generations. He said most churches tend to cater mostly to an older demographic. He said there are several factors that contribute to the disconnect between generations.
“And also, I don’t know if they’re equipped to deal with some of those complexities like Google or (other sources of) information because that’s not a reality they had to navigate,” Thomas said. “Whereas young people, that is probably one of the greatest barriers to faith is just intellectual confusion or doubt, or just there’s so many competing worldviews to ascribe to, whereas growing up for most (older) people it was just this (the church) for the most part.”
Thomas also talked about an idea he has for AUBA to put resources behind sending young people into the community to start a new congregation that caters specifically to the needs and interests of young Black people.
Elias Mutale, who currently serves as the pastor of Timberlea Baptists Church, spoke at the afternoon service. Mutale is an AUBA member who served as pastor at several AUBA churches in the past and moved to Canada from Zambia in South Central Africa in 1988.
“And last but not least, let me say thank you on behalf of the motherland, continental Africa,” he said to a round of applause.
Mutale made a connection from Africa to the East Preston United Baptist Church and spoke about the “Slave Tree” in the heart of Zambia.
“It is a monument … that stands there as a reminder to the slave-raiding parties who came that far inland to capture individuals who would then go to the east coast and to the west coast to be transported across the oceans,” Mutale said.
“Imagine going to bed at night in an African village, waking up the next day to find half of the village is gone, and you would never see them again. It’s part of the untold story, but it’s part of the legacy we represent today. It’s part of the strength and resilience of the African spirit.”
Before heading to the banquet dinner following Sunday’s services, Ruby Williams shared thoughts that echoed Mutale’s.
“You know, our ancestors didn’t have much but they kept it real, they kept it going, and we’re just trying to continue on the work that they started.”
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