Photo courtesy of the Martha's Vineyard Museum.
On Thursday, Rev. O. E. Denniston, founder of the Bradley Memorial Church, celebrated his fortieth anniversary as pastor of that Baptist church in Oak Bluffs. Mr. Denniston is the oldest minister in the service of the Massachusetts Baptist Convention.
“I’m not the oldest minister in service in Massachusetts,” he hastened to say, “but the oldest member of the convention, because I have stayed in the same place while other ministers have moved from state to state.”
Mr. Denniston is a tall, well-built Negro, with white hair, and an unlined face. His manner is kindly and gracious and very dignified. His expression is serious, almost somber, until he smiles, and then his whole face lights up and radiates good humor.
He was born in Jamaica and spent the first twenty-five years of his life there, where he was graduated from Manning’s Academy and later from the Calabar Baptist College. In Kingston, he had a small mission and was also superintendent of a church there for a short time.

Met Founder of Bethel

He was making preparations for further mission work and was also working among the seamen in Kings­ton, when he met Madison Edwards, the founder of the Seaman’s Bethel in Vineyard Haven. The two became very good friends and Mr. Edwards finally asked Mr. Denniston if he had ever thought of coming to the States and carrying on his work here. First, Mr. Denniston laughed at the idea, but later he considered it more seriously.
“I had always had my dreams about America,” he said, “I had read and heard so much about it, that I liked it before I ever got here. Jamaica is so small. On the map it is just a little point between North and South America. America seemed so vast. It was a much wider field than I had had in Jamaica. So I decided to come here. I went straight to Boston and stayed there for a short time and then came to the Vineyard. I’ve been here ever since. It wasn’t quite as rosy as my visions had made it, but I liked it.”
Mr. Denniston conducted a small mission in Oak Bluffs for the first four years he was here, a mission which had been started by Miss Susan C. Bradley, a New Englander. When after four years, a church was built, it was named after her. Later the mission church became a recognized church, a part of the Taunton Baptist Association which is comprised of the Baptist churches in Taunton, New Bedford, Fall River, Somerset, Mansfield, Attleboro and on Martha’s Vineyard. This association is in turn part of the Northern Baptist Convention which is made up of 360 Baptist churches all over the North.
None of this organizing and building up of the church in Oak Bluffs was easy.
“When I agreed to work among my people here,” said the minister, “I didn’t know anything at all about the Island. I didn’t know anything about its possibilities or its growth. It was very difficult for me when I first came here. Like all strangers, I was watched very carefully by the people who already lived here. Strangers are always watched with two views—one, to be kind to him, and the other, to make sure that he is kind to himself, in other words, to make sure that he is what he should be.”
Mr. Denniston is no longer a stranger to those around him. He is known with great affection by his parish, both as the founder of their church and as a kind friend.

Not Proud but Grateful

Looking back over his forty years here, he said reflectively, “I’m not proud of what I’ve done. Pride so of­ten impedes what you are trying to accomplish. I am only grateful that I was able to do it.”
Mr. Denniston has raised six children on the Island, Madison Edwards Den­niston, who is in the drug ‘business in Boston; Olive Denniston, who got her B.A. and Ed. M. degree at the Univer­sity of Boston and who is now a professor of English and Psychology at Barber-Scotia College in Concord, N.C., and a candidate for her Ph. D.; Joyce Denniston also a graduate of Boston University and head of the teachers training department at the Florida Normal College in St. Augustine; Dean Kimball Denniston, who received his B.A., his B.S. and his Ed. M. at Boston University, and who is now principal of a high school in Cordele, Ga.; Baron de Curtin Den­niston, a student at the College of Business Administration at Boston University.
“People tell me they think it was wonderful of me to put them all through college,” Mr. Denniston remarked, “but it’s the children that deserve the credit. I put them there but they were the ones that worked, and worked hard. They were the ones that got themselves good positions after they finished college.”
Mrs. Denniston, the minister’s second wife, is also from Jamaica. They met on one of his visits to Jamaica after he was living in this country.
“I want to say something ‘gracious about her, too,” he said, “because she has been such a help to me in every­thing. She has been a wonderful wife both at home and in my work, and her cooperation and help have produced remarkable achievements.”
In his forty years here, Mr. Denniston has seen a great many changes come to the Island, some good and some bad. One of the changes to which he most objects is the “spread of liquor traffic on the Vineyard.” Also, he feels that the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, an organization which does a great deal of good, is not so strong as it used to be. He does think, however, that the efforts to keep the Island unspoiled have increased with the years.

A Clean Summer Resort

“Nature has provided a wonderful place here,” be said, “and everyone has cooperated in keeping it wonderful, and to make a clean summer resort of it.”
The general spirit of friendliness, too, Mr. Denniston ‘thinks has grown. For a while, he said, the spirit seemed to lag and decrease, but it has, again established itself and is growing wider.
Besides being pastor of his own church and preaching at times in churches in Washington, New York and Boston, Mr. Denniston ,has also been interested in newspaper work. While he was in Jamaica he ‘wrote articles for the weekly Jamaica Gleaner, and for the two dailies there, the Telegram and the Times. These were not religious articles, though be did sometimes discuss his work in them, but were mainly his observations and reflections.
In 1907 he returned to Jamaica for a short time and-was there during the great earthquake. He wrote the first newspaper article about it and sent it to the Vineyard Gazette. It appeared in the Gazette under the heading “Gazette Representative in Earthquake Zone”, and for a long time after that he was known on the Vineyard as the Gazette representative during the earthquake, as well as the Baptist minister in Oak Bluffs, a strange combination perhaps, but Mr. Denniston is the living proof that it is a good one.