Groups hope to save Nova Scotia's oldest standing Baptist church

Two Nova Scotia groups are hoping to save what may be the oldest, still-standing Baptist church in Canada.

The Goat Island Baptist Church, located in Upper Clements, N.S., was built in 1810 and only gets used in the summer months by its current owners, the Clementsport United Baptist Church.

Both the Clements Historical Society and the Goat Island Baptist Church Preservation Society want to keep the building in the community.

"I hope that it can be saved and I plan on doing everything I can to make that happen," said Paul Wear, president of the Clements Historical Society.

His group uses the church for talks during the summer.

"Like many people in the local community, I can trace my family right back to the founder of the church, Rev. Israel Potter," he said. "It's a historic landmark for the community, it sits in a very prominent position and it's a beautiful little church."

The church is located on Highway 1 and is about 25 minutes from Digby.

A church with deep roots

Wear said everything about the building is original. There's no electricity on the inside and its heat source is a wood stove.

"What you first notice is the box pews," said Wear. "You go in and you have these pews which you have to open the door to walk into them. They're sort of U-shaped ... very uncomfortable, but original."

According to Historic Places, a website administered by Parks Canada, the church is "valued as being the oldest extant Baptist Church building in Nova Scotia and possibly Canada."

Historic Places says the congregation began to shrink at the turn of the 20th century because of outmigration.

Wear said the Clementsport United Baptist Church now has about six or seven people who attend weekly services.

At a meeting the church had in March, Wear said the congregation decided to continue on with its own church and divest themselves of the Goat Island Baptist Church. That means either they sell it or tear it down.

Wear said the Goat Island Baptist Church Preservation Society hired an engineer in December to do a report on the substructure of the church. The engineer determined two beams running under the building have rotted and need to be replaced.

Expensive fixes

Joseph D. Potter, the president of the Goat Island Preservation Society, said the Clementsport United Baptist Church has offered to sell the church to the preservation society for $1. He said the society would like to operate the church, but not own it.

Potter said the society will hold a meeting on Friday to determine its next steps.

"The upkeep is way more than we have [in] funds to keep up with. We can't do it," he said.

He estimated it would cost between $3,000 and $4,000 to fix the beams under the floor.

Many repairs needed

As well, Potter said the back wall needs to be replaced because of rot, the exterior needs to have the paint scraped off and then be repainted, and the gravestones in the cemetery need to be repaired.

Potter said he's trying to get more people to join the preservation society to help with fundraising.

If the historical society gets the building, Wear said the plan would be to keep using it for its summer talks. There won't be any summer talks at the church until the two beams are replaced.