Bradley Memorial Church Dedication and Senator Edward Kennedy’s Memorial Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard

Reverend Denniston speaking at dedicationHalf of Martha’s Vineyard fled to the mainland yesterday to avoid the oncoming storm that arrived this morning. We were ferrying over as they were leaving.
We started our trek from South Station, Boston, to catch the ferry at Woods Hole. Along the way I met Reverend Dean Denniston, who was sitting across the aisle from us on the South Station bus. Looking rather dapper in a black suit coat and tie with a folded red striped cane on his lap, he was reading Braille during the two-hour trip. He looked a bit like Ray Charles with his black sunglasses.
Once we arrived I waited to exit last, as I had my guitar with me. The Reverend was waiting as well and after a bit we were the only ones left on the bus. Hearing that I was carrying a guitar case, the Reverend mentioned that he played the blues slide guitar and was just learning “Little Red Rooster”.
He asked if I could help guide him off the bus and onto the ferry, so we chatted all the way to Martha’s Vineyard. Reverend Denniston had grown up in Oak Bluffs, a town with a large African American community.
His father was Rev. Oscar E. Denniston. He presided over Bradley Memorial Church, the first African-American Church on the island. The senior Reverend Denniston had founded the church and remained pastor until his death in 1942. The family lived in the church’s sanctuary.
The Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society, in partnership with the NAACP, acquired the building earlier this year, and is turning it into a museum honoring the African-American history of the island. The second floor where Rev. Denniston was raised will be converted into two affordable housing units.
Reverend Denniston was asked to give a family blessing at the groundbreaking ceremony, where the Governor of Massachusetts and other local dignitaries were scheduled to speak.
The Reverend confided that he had mixed emotions about returning to his family home. “But as in most times when one is truly called,” the Reverend said, “the calling seldom comes at convenient times.”
It felt to me like he had been called to this event for a reason. He agreed. I said, “There are miracles that happen each day if we find the time to take notice.” The Reverend quickly responded, “No, it’s not a miracle, it’s simply grace.”
As we continued to talk, we found a shared friend in Guy Davis, musician, actor and son of Ozzie. (Guy and I both performed at Madison Square Gardens for Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday celebration.)
The Reverend invited my wife and I to the dedication, which we accepted. Half of the attendees were African-American, most of whom have lived in Oak Bluffs for decades.
Church HistoryLindsey Lee, oral historian for the historical society, said there was a treasure trove of history inside Reverend Denniston’s home — photographs of parishioners and family members, church letters and documents, and well-worn pews. She and her staff had cataloged almost 80 boxes to be added to their permanent collection.
Mass. GovernorAfter the Governor and local politicians spoke, the Reverend gave a simple blessing for the memories his father’s home, the blessed Bradley Memorial Church, with the wish that a new vision will be created for generations to come.
After the dedication the Governor left for the JFK Library, where he was speaking at the family service for Senator Edward Kennedy along with Vice President Biden, Senator Hatch and McCain and others.
This morning Senator Edward Kennedy’s public memorial service was held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Mission Hill. President Obama gave a beautiful eulogy.
The last of the Kennedy brothers. A man who spent his life in service to others. A man who never gave up, weathering great storms of both family and personal tragedies. The last of a political dynasty.
The impending hurricane that sent locals scattering never materialized. Instead it was a rainy and windy day as my wife and I walked the quiet streets of Oak Bluffs…