Travel back in time to sermon 1812-style

Niagara Advance

By Penny Coles


Learn about tension, recession in US and Europe 200 years ago



Bill Leighfield, chair of Council at Grace United Church, greets Ninian Holmes ((aka Rev. Dave Pritchard) who will give a contemporary sermon from the war years, the first in a series of appearances by Holmes commemorating the War of 1812 bicentennial. The service begins at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 1 at Grace United on Victoria Street.

Rev. Ninian Holmes, the circuit rider who ministered to Methodists of the Niagara area during the War of 1812, will make an appearance Sunday to talk about what expect in the coming months as tension increases between the British and the Americans.

Rev. Dave Pritchard of Grace United Church is taking on the persona of Holmes Sunday with a traditional New Year’s covenant service that will encourage Methodists to serve God during the coming year. But as the outbreak of war is anticipated, he will also bring news of other areas Holmes would have visited on his circuit and speak of other issues of the day—the major recession in the US, the worries in Europe with the blockage of European ports and the huge debt and recession there, the tensions across the border between Americans and British that made it harder for residents and goods to travel across the border, and the group of Americans advocating war with the British.

“It’s an interesting connection,” says Rev. Pritchard, “to be discussing these things and realize you’re talking about 200 years ago, not today.”

Last summer, Rev. Pritchard took a three-month sabbatical from Grace United, where he has preached for the last five years, to research the early days of Methodism in Canada. While reading about the circuit riders who began coming to Niagara in 1795 on horse-back to preach, he discovered a gap in records during the period of the War of 1812. He hoped to fill in some of that gap.

His studies led him to references of a handful of people who continued to preach Methodism in Niagara during the war years.

He hoped his research would help him to develop a re-enactment character, a peaceful observer who provide a perspective different from the military approach.

The person he has chosen is Holmes, who served on the circuit from 1811 to 1813.

Rev. Pritchard spent the first month of his sabatical in Williamsburg, Virginia, another month in England and then the third month back in Canada, traveling the Niagara Circuit from York through Grimsby, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls and Fort Erie.

His wife Judith, a talented seamstress, accompanied him to research the dress of the day and to develop some costumes for re-enactments. She has made period clothing for herself and her husband, and is available to advise others who wish to have 1812 costumes for some of the events that will be celebrate the bicentennial.

Sunday’s sermon, at 10:30 a.m., is the first of a series of Grace Events planned for the bicentennial. The community is invited to the Victoria Street Church—come in period costumes, says Rev. Pritchard, to help launch the commemoration of 200 years of peace.

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