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‘The backbone of the whole community’: Gibson Woods United Baptist Church’s designation as educational tourism destination will help preserve community history

Gibson Woods United Baptist Church deacon and clerk Geraldine Browning looks at an information display featuring several projects and initiatives that members of the Gibson Woods United Baptist Church Ladies Auxiliary have been involved with over the years.
Gibson Woods United Baptist Church deacon and clerk Geraldine Browning looks at an information display featuring several projects and initiatives that members of the Gibson Woods United Baptist Church Ladies Auxiliary have been involved with over the years. - Kirk Starratt

GIBSON WOODS, NS - The Gibson Woods United Baptist Church is much more than just a space for worship and social gathering.

Church deacon and clerk Geraldine Browning said a recent investment made in the church property in association with its designation as an educational tourism destination makes her very happy and she thanks God for it. She’s thrilled to see the church being recognized for its cultural significance.

“I think it’s the backbone of the whole community,” Browning said. “It brings the community together.”

Browning believes the new designation and the associated work on the church will be great for the community.

The building has served as a place of worship and a general meeting place since the doors first opened in 1902. And that longtime importance in the community is easy to see, Browning says, adding that there are a lot of hugs to go around whenever the congregation gathers.

“I just love living here,” Browning said. “We’re all one family.”

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Gibson Woods United Baptist Church deacon and clerk Geraldine Browning is pleased to see work on the church progress. The property has been designated an educational tourism destination and significant renovations are taking place thanks to government funding.
Gibson Woods United Baptist Church deacon and clerk Geraldine Browning is pleased to see work on the church progress. The property has been designated an educational tourism destination and significant renovations are taking place thanks to government funding.

Renovations underway

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) announced in the winter that it was committing $69,770 in Innovative Communities Fund cash in support of renovations at the church. Funding has also been allotted for land improvements to the Mathieu Da Costa African Heritage Trail.

The provincial Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage will also contribute $40,000 and the Municipality of the County of Kings is kicking in an additional $14,512.

Although there was a delay in procuring the necessary permits, the church is undergoing significant renovations as part of the educational tourism destination project. A small museum space, which will showcase historic community photographs and artifacts, is being added to the front of the church.

Browning believes that the museum will be a wonderful resource for community members in the future.

“I’m really thankful to see that piece going on there so that we can preserve some of our history,” Browning said.

Electrical upgrades and accessible washrooms, with hot running water, will also be done at the church. Browning said the cemetery, which often draws people doing genealogical research, isn't being forgotten, either - new fencing will be installed as part of the work, and eventually, she would like to see some benches installed as well.

Read more

• Gibson Woods Church to become cultural tourism destination

Community landmark

A longtime resident of Gibson Woods, Browning and her family, along with many other community members, have put countless hours of hard work into maintaining the church over the years. After falling into disrepair and being closed for approximately a decade, the community rallied to repair the building and the church was reopened in 1979.

“It’s been a lot of education, it’s been a lot of growing pain,” said Browning. “I said, when this church gets finished, I’m going to say, ‘built from blood, sweat and tears.’”

Browning said congregation members started putting new windows into the building a few years ago, with the help of grant money from the County of Kings. It was during this renovation that it was discovered that the siding on an addition to the back of the church was rotting out and allowing the weather in. That issue will also be addressed through the current project.

Browning said congregation members have been warmly welcomed at the Canard Community Church when they’ve been unable to hold services in Gibson Woods due to the construction.

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Work is underway on renovations to the Gibson Woods United Baptist Church.
Work is underway on renovations to the Gibson Woods United Baptist Church.

Important part of history

Browning would like to see more of an effort made to preserve African Nova Scotian history in the area, adding that it gives people with roots in the Annapolis Valley who have moved away a reason to come home.

She recalls fondly events like the 114th anniversary of the church in 2016 when more than 100 people were on hand for the service and the building was filled to capacity.

Browning adds that the educational tourism destination initiative aligns with the global observance of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent.

A 2017 Order of Nova Scotia recipient, Browning has been a tireless advocate for the African Nova Scotian community. Among many other accolades, she is a founding member of the Black Business Initiative, the Black Cultural Society and the Valley African Nova Scotian Development Association.

Did you know?

  • The first Baptist Church in Gibson Woods was established in 1871. The building was located west of the current church and measured 12 by 15 feet.
  • In 1875, the church hosted the African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia and in 1879, Reverend James Johnson was called to serve the church.
  • By 1886, the church had 45 members.
  • Later, Reverend John Smith settled in the community and under his direction in 1902, the current Gibson Woods United Baptist Church building was erected.
  • The Gibson Woods United Baptist Church was the first church in the African United Baptist Association to have a female pastor, Reverend Tracey Grosse.
  • The Gibson Woods United Baptist Church is a so-called “daughter church” of the First Cornwallis Baptist Church, which celebrated its 210th anniversary in 2017.

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