The student of Vineyard history, at least such history as has been published, will recognize the fact that it was largely through the clergy that things were accomplished during the first hundred and fifty years of the Island’s existence as a colony and province. Not only did they preach the word of God to whites and Indians, but they worked energetically to promote various industries and acted as advisors in settling all manner of disputes which arose, besides writing wills and other legal documents and keeping records, in many cases, being the only ones now existing.
As we of the present day read of ancient men of ancient times, we give them full credit for the work they did and oftentimes marvel at their courage and strength in undertaking such formidable tasks and completing them. It is not easy to realize that the historical event of which we read in a few moments or a few hours, took years to materialize and that the labor of its achievement meant a daily, commonplace grind throughout the lifetime of the man or men who began the work and brought it to a conclusion.

His Labor Will Be Recorded

And so it is that people of today, even as those of every other age and generation, fail to recognize history in the making. It is impossible to say what great events may be influenced by the daily efforts of quiet unassuming citizens who are simply doing the things which seem to them to be their given tasks. Sometime, however, more history will be written, and it will record the toiling steps of many who buil[t] bigger than they knew. Like the history already written, the clergy will receive its share of credit, and among those who toiled hardest and most alone will be the name of the Rev. Oscar E. Denniston, pastor of the Bradley Memorial Baptist church of Oak Bluffs.
Here is a man who needs the support of his colossal frame to help bear the burden he has carried and still carries, and who must draw to its fullest capacity upon his naturally cheerful nature in order to hold his head upright and greet the world with a smile; a man who has reared a temple in the wilderness, figuratively speaking, and has given the best years of his life to a work which was not only doubtful of completion, but which offered neither subsistence in its progress nor material reward at its finish.
Mr. Denniston is a native of Kingston, Jamaica, where he spent his boyhood and received his education at Manning’s Academy and Calabar College. Having a fondness for religios work, he studied to that end and at the completion of his education was appointed superintendent of the seaman’s mission at Kingston. It was through his work that he met the late Madison Edwards of Vineyard Haven, who urged him to come to Oak Bluffs.

A Good Samaritan

Mr. Edwards, while travelling in the West Indies was taken seriously ill and during his illness was cared for in part by Mr. Denniston. To him Mr. Edwards gave a great deal of the credit for his recovery and the two became fast friends.
At the time there was no Negro church on the Island,but what was known as the Oakland Mission was conducted on Masonic avenue by Mrs. Susan C. Bradley. This mission was supported by few, the average audience being about twenty and the Sunday School attendance about a dozen. Mr. Edwards urged Mr. Denniston to come to Oak Bluffs and take up the work in the mission, which, after some deliberation, he did.
Showing from the beginning his qualifications for conducting the work he soon became the leading spirit of the institution and Mrs. Bradley resigned in his favor. The mission grew and the small assembly room became too small to accommodate the number which attended services. A larger building became a necessity, yet there were no funds to finance a purchase nor prospects of raising them.
It was at this point that Mr. Denniston made the move which set him apart from average men. Firm in the belief that faith, backed up with plenty of hard work, will accomplish anything, he purchased the old Noepe Theatre on Circuit avenue, for a church. Although he had been ordained some years before and had gained distinction in evangelistic work, his real career is in this church, the Bradley Memorial Church, which he organized with 25 members and a debt which seemed a colossal burden when the new building was acquired.

Regarded as Foolhardy

Having been neglected for years, the building, a large, three-story structure, was falling to decay. Built originally for the showing of moving pictures, it was capable of seating a large audience, while numerous rooms provided space for other branches of church work, but so dilapidated was the entire structure that no insurance company would issue a policy on it and the refitting of such a wreck of a building was generally regarded as a foolhardy proceeding.
But the building was made sound, safe and attractive, and there is now only a small mortgage upon it. The auditorium is furnished with the pews from the old Methodist Chruch of Vineyard Haven, with a pulpit desk from Old South Church of Boston and contains a pipe organ, a small organ and piano. The back curtain of the stage, which has been left intact, is decorated with a religious painting, and with its wide and lofty gallery, the whole interior presents an aspect both attractive and impressive. The original decoration of the theatre is concealed beneath a decorative scheme which invests the whole with a quiet, restful dignity.
On the top floor, above the gallery, is the social hall, which is also used for the primary department of the Sunday School. Here are also seats for a good-sized audience, and another organ.
All through the church may be seen articles which have been obtained through what Mr. Denniston calls miraculous means. “We needed an organ,” he says, “and I prayed for a way to be shown me in which we might acquire it. The way was shown and it took but little money, too.”
In such ways the church has been furnished, decorated and kept in the finest of repair. No wonder its pastor has faith.

Lives By and On Faith

More than that, he lives by faith and on faith in a literal sense, for not a dollar of salary has been guaranteed him since he began the work of the church. From the little handful of followers he has built up the congregation which is numbered by the hundreds, and in his ordinary Sunday evening audiences may often be found representatives of eight or nine different races. His fame as a preacher has spread and he has preached in many of the greatest cities of the country, where he has been received by clergymen of distinction and accorded many honors.
Since his ordination he has held several offices in the national, state and local Baptist association, besides being president of the Martha’s Vineyard Ministerial Association. Splendid offers from other churches have been declined by Mr. Denniston, who regards it as his bounden duty to remain and complete the work which he has begun.
The church is a member of the National Baptist Convention, of the Taunton Baptist Association. It may be said to be in a financial condition which holds a promise of future security, if no relaxation is allowed. This is the fact which constitutes a marvel to all who are familiar with its history.
It is explained by this man who styles himself as a missionary pastor in these words: “I believe that if a man is in deadly earnest, God and mankind will recognize and aid him. My family and I live a missionary life in the rooms above the old mission on Masonic avenue. There my six children were born and there we will remain until we can have a home of our own, which we will have if I live long enough.

Few Luxuries

“We have few of the luxuries of life, but I make no apologies for the simplicity of my home. I could have added much to the comfort of myself and family, but I have been trying to build a church. I have built it, with the help of God and the men whom He has influenced, and now I must safeguard the future of this institution before I turn my efforts toward providing luxuries for myself.”