Skip to main content

Underground Railroad Workshop At Capacity

April 24, 2019

An Inspire 2019 workshop trip to the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, previously known as the “North American Black Historical Museum,” has drawn high interest — so much so that the workshop is already full.

The workshop, titled “Black Canadian History and the Underground Railroad,” will feature a visit to the furnished 19th century home of a former slave, and to a church used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Workshop participants will also visit Sandwich First Baptist Church, the oldest active black church in Canada. The museum is located in Amherstburg, Ont.

“I'm glad to hear our trip is full,” said Mark Van Andel, a Resonate Global Mission local mission leader and copastor of Hesed Community Church in Detroit, Mich. He noted that workshop participation was capped at 50 because of limited space on the bus and at the museum itself.

“The museum is fairly small, and we encourage other Inspire attendees to also visit the museum on their own time as museum hours allow,” he said.

Bernadette Arthur, a race relations coordinator for the CRC’s Office of Race Relations, will join Van Andel in leading the workshop taking place Friday, Aug. 2.

Other workshops for the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s second gathering for church leaders and volunteers are starting to fill up as well, said Kristen deRoo VanderBerg, communications director for the CRCNA.

“We are offering a wide range of workshops at Inspire and, if you are coming, we suggest you register early for the ones you are interested in and think could help you in your ministry,” she said.

More than 500 people have already registered for this event. While some workshops are nearing capacity, there will be many other exciting activities for all attendees during the event.

“If you haven’t registered for Inspire, consider it. There will be fantastic times of worship, prayer, plenary speakers, and dozens of workshops — so we invite you to come.”

Set for Aug. 1-3 at the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts in Windsor, the range of workshop topics is geared to serve the interests and needs of church leaders and volunteers of all kinds. From deacons to Sunday school teachers, church planters to praise team members, there is something for everyone at Inspire 2019.

The Inspire 2019 workshops have been arranged into 12 tracks, though participants are encouraged to pick and choose across all of the options. The tracks include

  • Disability Concerns
  • Ministry in an Interfaith World
  • Worship and Prayer
  • Faith Formation for Every Generation
  • One Church, Many Ethnicities
  • Church Planting and Revitalization
  • Justice and Reconciliation
  • Practical Tools for Ministry
  • Community Contexts and Ministry
  • Leadership Development
  • Safe Church Ministry

This year, Inspire will also be offering several workshops in Korean and English simultaneously.

The off-site workshop about the Underground Railroad is especially appropriate, given the ongoing concern about racism in society and the church, said Bernadette Arthur.

She pointed out that the Belhar Confession, adopted by Synod 2012 and categorized by Synod 2017 as a contemporary testimony, is a confession addressing racism as a sin and declaring that unity is established in the context of freedom.

“Recently released statistics about racial inequities in Canada indicate that we are still a country that struggles with discrimination and oppression,” she said.

“I believe that the museum will contain its own cloud of witnesses, people who stood bravely in the face of injustice and put their lives on the line for the hope of a more just and free future.”

Founded in 1975 by local residents, the Amherstburg Freedom Museum preserves and presents artifacts of African-Canadians, many of whose ancestors had entered Canada as refugees from slavery in the United States. They found it relatively easy to enter Canada from across the Detroit River.

By visiting the museum, said Arthur, she hopes “that the past stories and present realities will grant us courage to walk humbly, do justice, and fulfill the good works of reconciliation that God has called us to do in this generation.”

According to the City of Windsor website, “The Underground Railroad, an informal network of safe-houses and caring individuals, led escaping American slaves from the American South to Canada.”

Between 30,000 to potentially 100,000 slaves and free citizens escaped via the Underground Railroad in the years before 1865, “mostly to the triangular region bounded by Windsor, Niagara Falls, and Toronto.” After the Civil War many people returned to the U.S., but a significant number of citizens “settled in upper Canada, with many in Windsor and Essex County.”

Also of interest: The International Memorial to the Underground Railroad, which is a two-part installation on either side of the Detroit River. Equally sited in Windsor, on Pitt Street near the Windsor Casino, and in Hart Plaza in Detroit, the 22-foot-high monuments face each other and pay tribute to the thousands who searched for freedom.

“My hope would be that people would learn the history behind this stage of the Underground Railroad and Black Canadians’ unique contributions to freedom,” said Van Andel.

Visiting places such as this, he said, can help shape “our thinking about freedom today.”

More broadly, he said, he believes “the CRCNA has been slowly learning how to look back in order to move forward. We are recognizing (and need to continue to learn) the ways in which our actions, and inactions, of the past have caused or enabled inequality both in the church and in our world. This kind of experience together allows us the space to continue to journey together toward freedom for all people.”