Impersonating Sawyerville Baptists from an earlier era (L-R): Michel Bélanger, Hugette Loiselle, Austin Bailey, Annette Guay and the 36th pastor, Michel Houle, dressed as Rev. Archibald Gillies, pastor from 1841 to 1878.
On the weekend of September 4 and 5, the Sawyerville Baptist Church celebrated its 200th anniversary, with 180 people attending a Saturday supper in the Johnville Community Centre.
“It was really a lot of fun. We had people there from all around; a lot from Ontario. There was a lot of reminiscing, and people coming back after so many years. It was just like a family reunion,” said Pastor Michel Houle.
During three bus tours of the area, Sharron Rothney and her granddaughter Bethany told stories of times past: churches that rose and closed, settlers that came and stayed, and businesses that flourished. The driver, dressed in top hat and tails, was Deacon Austin Bailey. He was disguised as Dr. Edward T. Worthington, surgeon of fame who amputated William Stone’s leg with anesthesia in 1847.
An important stop was at the Grove Hill Cemetery, where long-time pastor Archibald Gillies from Scotland and his family are buried, not far from the site of the original church built in 1855.
In the afternoon, an audience of about 80 gathered in the church to hear a presentation by Bill Ball, a missionary to Ukraine supported by the Sawyerville Baptist Church. During the festivities, participants donated $1,335 to the Slavic Gospel Association.
“When the war broke out, we didn’t have very much news,” said Pastor Michel. “Then we discovered the pastor we were supporting in Ukraine for the past four years was receiving refugees in his church and feeding people.”
Guest speakers and musicians were also featured at the Saturday supper and the Sunday service, including Ken Beach, François Bergeron, Ed Sealy, and Jacques & Déane Boulianne. Pastor Michel was kept busy translating for the speakers, from French to English and vice versa. The congregation of about 40 souls is almost equally composed of Anglophones and Francophones.
A photo display by Danny Bousquet gave glimpses of Sawyerville’s history and the 2013 renovation of the current church building at 33 Cookshire Road, erected in 1889 at a cost of $2,465.
Each visitor also received a 28-page booklet recounting the Church’s eventful history. In January 1794, Pastor Andrews from Vermont baptized about 30 people near Clarenceville: They cut a hole in the ice of Lake Champlain and, it was recorded, “15 of those happy and devoted disciples were, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, immersed agreeably.”
A bit later, this whole congregation moved to the Eaton Township. On December 15, 1822, the Eaton (later Sawyerville) Baptist Church was organized with 13 members.
Among the 36 pastors throughout its 200-year history was Rev. Edward Mitchell, in 1833. He was born in Martinique and graduated from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. The booklet said he “was the first Canadian resident of African descent to hold a college degree and the first ordained minister of colour in this country to serve a predominately white congregation.”
“Thanks to the 200th Anniversary Committee,” said current Pastor Houle. “A lot of people have prayed for this event, and a lot of people worked in the shadows. I won’t mention the names because I’d hate to leave someone out.”
“If you ask me what Sawyerville Baptist Church means to me, it’s a love story,” he concluded. “They showed me the key to pastoral ministry, and there’s three things, to love God, to love God’s word, and to love people. That’s what these people do. It’s the church family, God’s faithfulness, and the faithfulness of the people.”