Black female pastor in Black robe leads an all-Black church choir in blue robes
Rev. Rhonda Britton leads the New Horizons Baptist Church choir at a service on Sunday at St. Matthews United Church on Barrington Street. Photo: Matthew Byard.

On Sunday, New Horizons Baptist Church held its first service since the province announced it was spending $1.7 million to help build the Richard Preston Centre of Excellence. The centre will be located at the church on Cornwallis Street and will include spaces for tutoring and mentoring programs, youth programs, and community services and gatherings.

Service at the church has been on hiatus since the renovation and expansion began in 2018. Sunday’s service was held at St. Matthews United Church on Barrington Street.

Initially, the renovations were only expected to last a year and a half. However, the discovery of an oil tank buried beneath the property and unexpected issues involving asbestos ended up increasing the costs and putting the project on indefinite hold.

To complete the renovations, the church asked for more donations, including through a fundraising campaign asking for $190 individual donations in conjunction with the church’s upcoming 190-year anniversary.

In her sermon on Sunday, Rev. Rhonda Britton preached about love.

“How can we show love? We are celebrating the good news of receiving funding to complete our building. And though I am sure it would not typically be characterized as an act of love — I mean does government love us?

After a response from a member of the congregation, Britton responded, “That’s precisely it; it is precisely an act of love. The love that Jesus commands us to show is not emotion; it is action for the good of others.”

Present day photo of New Horizons Baptist Church (originally called the African Chapel) undergoing renovations on Cornwallis Street
New Horizons Baptist Church undergoing renovations on Cornwallis Street (February 2022). Photo: Matthew Byard.

In an interview with the Examiner after the service, Britton said the church spent just over $2 million for the renovations to the sanctuary at New Horizon. She said the $1.7 million from the province will complete the renovations and she expects the centre to open and services to resume at New Horizons by August. The expansion includes space for community programs to be hosted by the centre.

“We don’t have the means to purchase or build space outside of our church, so we decided that we would make a part of our building suffice for the work that the Richard Preston Centre for Excellence Society wants to do. So that’s how that came to be. It’s not what we need in the community, but it’s a start.”

Racial discrimination and racist policies

Sunday was also New Horizons’ annual service for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. At several points during the service, Britton made a point to amend and expand on the theme by including the line “and racist policies.”

Uniformed members of the Halifax Regional Police usually attend this service each year as part of the choir, but officers didn’t attend this past Sunday. Britton explained in an interview that the decision goes back to 2019.

In November that year, prior to the church’s 2020 Elimination of Racial Discrimination service, Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella issued a public apology on behalf of the department for a history of systemic racism within the Halifax Regional Police. The apology followed the release of the Wortley report that found that, in Halifax, Black people were six times more likely than white people to be street checked by Halifax Regional Police (HRP) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

In the three months that followed the apology, Halifax Regional Police officers were involved in several incidents where they were accused of racism and investigated for misconduct. In three of those incidents, the Black citizens sustained physical injuries or had weapons used on them only to either not even be criminally charged or to have their charges dropped.

In December 2019, on Quinpool Road, several HRP officers were seen tussling with a Black man in a traffic stop arrest and using a stun gun on him.

In January 2020, 23-year-old Santina Rao received bruising from punches to her face and a broken wrist when she was arrested in the toy section of a Walmart, in front of her two young children after being falsely accused of shoplifting.

In February 2020, 15-year-old Demario Chambers was violently arrested outside of a mall in Bedford and received physical injuries at the hands of police for asserting his right to free speech. HRP Cst. Mark Pierce was since criminally charged for assaulting Chambers and his case remains before the courts.

Portions of all three of these incidents were caught on camera and posted online.

YouTube video

In a separate incident, former Black Halifax Regional Police officer, Maurice Carvery accused members of the Halifax Regional Police of racial profiling and misconduct in a traffic stop where he was pulled over the same day Santina Rao was arrested.

Following those incidents  — and as the March 2020 International Day for the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination approached  — Britton said the New Horizons congregation didn’t want the police involved in the service.

Pastor Britton said she told Kinsella the officers were welcome to come to the service but that they would no longer be taking part in it.

Then, on March 11, 2020, The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The International Day Sunday Service was scheduled for March 15. With the church undergoing renovations, New Horizons had been holding Sunday service at the Northwood assisted living facility, which would later go on to be the epicentre for the COVID outbreak in Nova Scotia.

The congregation moved the service to the North Branch Library in what would be their final service before the first COVID lockdown.

Britton said Kinsella, his aide, and Supt. Dean Simmonds were the only officers who ended up attending the service. She said Kinsella read a proclamation on behalf of the department to the dismay of members of the congregation.

“The people said, ‘How are they going to read this proclamation saying they’re upholding this and that, and this is what’s happening in the street?!’ So people were upset about that.”

New Horizons Baptists Church Pastor, Rhonda Britton. Photo: Matthew Byard.
New Horizons Baptists Church Pastor, Rhonda Britton. Photo: Matthew Byard.

The service for 2021 was held online.

Britton said that Simmonds usually contacts her around December to initiate plans for the service coming up in March. Last year, Pastor Britton’s mother passed away and she was out of town in the months of October and December.

“And it wasn’t until a week, 10 days ago or so that someone said something and I went, ‘Oh! The International Day!’ So I hadn’t sent out invitations or anything,” she said.

Last summer, Simmonds and his wife, Preston MLA Angela Simmonds issued a statement and filed a complaint against the Cole Harbour RCMP following a traffic stop where they said they were racially profiled and had guns pointed at them. Britton said she feels this may factor into why she wasn’t contacted.

“I’m just presuming that perhaps next year when we’re back in our church, that we will go on as normal. Because that service has been happening for 20 years, I don’t want it to stop under me.”

African Nova Scotian Affairs

Britton said that an example of one of the racist policies she spoke of in the sermon was the firing of Késa Munroe-Anderson as Deputy Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs after the Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservatives were elected to a majority government in August.

“It’s like, why would you have a white African Nova Scotian [Affairs] minister and then fire the Black deputy?” she said.

Houston later appointed Dwayne Provo, who is Black, as Associate Deputy Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs under Deputy Minister Justin Huston, and Minister Pat Dunn.

Provo attended the service on Sunday and offered remarks to the congregation during the service.

Black man in navy suit speaks at a church podium.
Dwayne Provo, associate deputy minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, speaks to the congregation of New Horizons Baptist Church. Photo: Matthew Byard.

In a separate interview with the Examiner following the service, Provo was asked what he made of the initial backlash among some Black Nova Scotians to Dunn’s appointment as Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs.

“I don’t think that anybody would be in disagreement around it would be more beneficial to have someone that reflects community represent community, and that would probably be even echoed by the minister. The reality is though, in this situation, its about moving forward and getting things in order to help benefit communities, like this announcement that went out this week, which [will allow us] to actually move the ball forward for our community.”

“We notice that in Central Halifax … for the African Nova Scotian community, there is no hub. And so that Richard Preston Centre will be the hub that we can actually provide programming and services to our people that need it so much in those areas.”

Black female Pastor in glasses and black robe closes her eyes, smiles and raiser her arms and hands to her sides
New Horizons baptists Church pastor, Rhonda Britton. Photo: Matthew Byard.
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Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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