A Tale of Two Churches

In May of 2018, the Grace Church in Vineyard Haven became site number 28 on the African American Heritage Trail.


The African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard honors the Rev. Absalom Jones, first African American priest ordained in the Episcopal Church, 1746-1818, the first Rt. Rev. John Melville Burgess, first African American Diocesan Bishop in the Episcopal Church, 1909-2003, and Allan Rohan Crite, African American Liturgical Artist, 1910-2007.

These three Episcopalians through their actions and contributions courageously opened our eyes to the wholeness of God’s love in the Church. They are remembered here at Grace Church with stained glass windows in the sanctuary and a mural in the children’s chapel.

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
Baptismal Covenant, Book of Common Prayer

Excerpt from “Honoring the past, looking to the future” By Pat Waring in the MV Times, May 29, 2018:

The Heritage Trail designation honors groundbreaking priests depicted in two church windows, and the African American liturgical artist whose mural graces the Children’s Chapel.

Stained glass windows honor the Rev. Absalom Jones (1746–1818), first African American priest ordained in the Episcopal Church; and the Rt. Rev. John Melville Burgess (1909–2003), first African American diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church. Allan Rohan Crite (1910–2007) was a noted black liturgical artist in Boston. Thanks to a 1950s commission by the Rev. Thomas Lehman, he painted the vibrant mural.

Windows honoring Rev. John Burgess and Rev. Absalom Jones

On the day of the dedication, after the Sunday service, worshipers filed into the parish hall, joining a crowd of community members there to witness the occasion. Setting the inclusive tone, interim priest the Rev. Susan Eibner played a recording of “Stand By Me” and Leigh Ann Yuen, Grace Church Burgess Committee chair, offered thanks all around, especially to Betty Rawlins, who was instrumental in founding that committee some 20 years ago. Its aim was to broaden knowledge and understanding in the church and community of African American life, history, and the civil rights movement.

The Heritage Trail was delighted to welcome the Grace Church onto the Trail, and to recognize our shared values and commitment to an inclusive community.

During the moving dedication ceremony, Leigh Ann Yuen read from “The Beatitudes, from Slavery to Civil Rights” by Carole Boston Weatherford, a picture book evoking scenes from bondage and pain to hope and achievement in the long fight for equality.

Preparing to remove the red cloth covering the plaque, Bishop Burgess’s daughter, Julia Burgess, reflected that her father became suffragan bishop of Massachusetts in 1962, and was diocesan bishop from 1970 to 1975.

“We’re facing those kinds of times now,” she said. “We should all be making a commitment to improve people’s lives. I think the church could have a much bigger role in helping out.”

“Amen!” the crowd responded. “Alleluia!”


Excerpted from: 

Waring, P. (2018, May 29). Honoring the Past, Looking to the Future. MV Times.

Members of the Board of the African American Heritage Trail at Grace Church.

(c) 2016 Martha's Vineyard African-American Heritage Trail. All Rights Reserved