For over three years, I felt like a lone voice in the proverbial wilderness. It also felt crazy to me that no one really cared about the ruins of 184 years of history known as Ebenezer A.M.E. and her old souls buried on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, East Whiteland.
But it ends up, people do care, and day by day she is further released from her green prison of weeds, giant poison ivy vines, overgrowth. Every day we see a little more.
The tide turned shortly after Kristin Holmes wrote her first article on Ebenezer. This gentleman named Al Terrell told me he was going to get Ebenezer cleaned up. He will tell you, and I will admit at that point my faith in this happening and being able to keep my promise to Ann Christie that we wouldn’t give up… was waning to say the least.
But Al came along with this remarkable teenager and Eagle Scout from Willistown 78, Luke Phayre. And little by little, it’s happening. It is actually happening.
Al is amazing. He is one of the nicest men I have ever met, and he has this quiet and unassuming determination about him. He has a deeply rooted faith in God and humankind that has kind of made me have faith again.
And Luke. Luke is an amazing boy, with an equally amazing mom, Kathy. This boy is hard-working, smart, and articulate. And yesterday, even as most of his buddies and fellow scouts were off on a camping trip, Luke was at Ebenezer, cleaning up debris. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with Luke and happy to meet his mother who is also just one of those people you know from the first introduction are “good people”.
Yesterday at Ebenezer, I also met a man named Doug. He grew up in East Whiteland and told me about how he and his friends played in the graveyard and church. He said when they were kids (60’s and 70’s) there was still the roof and the floor. And even part of the old altar and a couple of pews. That now gives us a better timeline as to when the roof caved in taking everything and the floor with it. My guesstimate on that is late 1970s or 1980s.
So today, Kristin Holmes has another article in the Inquirer. I had contacted her after the clean up began and had sent her photos. I connected her to Al Terrell for a follow-up article. One of the most remarkable things in the article is a quote from an A.M.E. Bishop who would not respond to me when I contacted him:
Duffy’s son, Luke Phayre, 15, and Terrell researched the property and talked with township officials. They also sought permission for the cleanup from the First District of the A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, and got it. Phayre said he talked to Bishop Gregory Ingram, who sent a letter approving the project and commending Phayre for his initiative.
“I think it’s so noble,” Bishop Ingram said in an interview Friday. “. . . I feel somewhat embarrassed that I haven’t been out there. But I will.
“For anyone to make themselves available to champion a cause like this,” he said, “it shows that in the midst of all the negativity in the world, wonderful things are happening.”
This also means to me that the A.M.E. Church is acknowledging Ebenezer’s existence and importance in history. It also gives me hope and the ability to start to forgive the A.M.E. Church for not responding, not acknowledging. A boy with a scout project helped them see what we see. That is what is important. Will I ever forget that men and women of the cloth like Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia who had an earlier calling in West Chester could never take the time to speak to me when I reached out? Probably not, but that is past and it’s time to look forward.
Bishop Ingram makes a hopeful difference in my mind, so it’s time to forgive them and look forward.
Every time I am at Ebenezer now I get all filled up with tears. Happy tears that people young and old and in between still care about things like this. Now I am hopeful she will be preserved and along with her some of the history of the people of Bacton, which was once a very important black community around here.
The people buried in this cemetery bore witness to so much history. And they lived it like ordinary people raising their families, working hard towards a better tomorrow. We owe these people a great debt, I think.
This article which I am about to post is why I do what I do. And some days it is hard. People love to criticize and castigate from behind their keyboards, semi-anonymous in their vitriol.
This is a strange world we live in where at times you are punished for not essentially being like everyone else, not thinking like everyone else, not being all the exact same homogeneous lump of humanity. And then after a lot of these people criticize they actually go out and mimic what you do, anyway. Imitation is after all, the sincerest form of flattery (or something like that.)
My journey through Chester County thus far has been an amazing one. And it is home. So I am happy, so truly happy about Ebenezer. I have hope for her future and was able to keep my word to a new friend.
Enjoy the article and I will have new photos soon.
Thank you Kristin Holmes for getting it. She is the ONLY reporter from any paper who has taken the time to write about this.
Thank you Al and Luke for your hard work and unwavering faith.
Updated: OCTOBER 16, 2016 — 5:34 AM EDT