By Rev. Frank Anderson
Two congregations, one African Methodist Episcopal and one Lutheran, joined together on Saturday, March 18th to recognize their past bonds and to honor and renew a sacred place that connects them.
Under the leadership of Pastor Frank W. Anderson and Pastor Marion Reeves, members of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church (founded in 1814) and members of Pleasant Spring AME Church (founded in 1869), gathered at what can now be called the St. Michael’s Lutheran Church African-American Cemetery. Located on Windward Point Road, the cemetery has long been a place of curiosity in the community and the two congregations joined forces to bring new life to this mostly forgotten historic site. Befitting the work for the day, a Prayer Service kicked off the event, emphasizing ‘Remembrance and Reconciliation’
The day was spent clearing away debris and recording the grave markers uncovered by the day’s work. Lined up in neat rows, most of them were simple stones that marked the resting places of enslaved persons whose family members had hand-carved them to mark the final resting place of their loved ones. There were nearly 150 visible graves in the cemetery which was largely unused after 1920. Families with members interred there have visited through the years, but little has been done to document or maintain the site until now. While many of the stones only had initials or first names, there were some markers with last names that are familiar to the area such as Dreher, Spence, Bowman, Hiller, Hall, and Spann. Those gathered were especially pleased to find the resting place of July Spence, one of several Founding Trustees of Pleasant Spring AME Church. The original two acres for Pleasant Spring were purchased in 1873 from St. Michael’s member John R. Shuler of Selwood by the ‘officers of the A.M.E. Church’. Later in the day, St. Michael’s members provided lunch with a presentation detailing the historic connections between these two congregations.
Pleasant Spring AME Church was founded by formerly enslaved African-Americans, some of whom are presumed to have been part of the ‘Colored Members of St. Michael’s’, a list documented in Parish Records of the 1830’s. Both July Spence and Belton Spann are known to have connections to both congregations. The head stone for David Bowman, a prominent African-American in Columbia, was discovered buried under dirt and debris.
Pastor Reeves reacted to the day’s events with an appropriate metaphor: “Reconciliation, like the clearing away of the debris from these graves, is not easy. It requires the clearing away of old mindsets and preconceived notions about one another. Both require hard work and sacrifice that often leads to weariness.”
“The Apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”
“As Christians, we have to look at the past and see it for what it really was, acknowledge it and forgive. Once we have forgiven, the door is open to reconciliation. We must take the step of faith and move forward to build stronger relationships with each other. What occurred Saturday on Windward Point Road, should serve as a blue print for creating unified faith-based communities that are stronger because of our diversity.“
“This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.”
Saint John 15:12
Pastor Anderson adds, “Research has shown the very real connection between these two communities, and strengthens the theory that this cemetery served as the burial ground for the many African-American, ante-bellum, members of St. Michael’s. It is an opportunity, for us now, to promote racial reconciliation in our community. Our people visited Pleasant Spring for friends and family events in the Fall of 2016, and this is another chance for fellowship. We very much hope that many more opportunities will be created among us as we build from these early events. We are, after all, children of a loving and graceful God!”
It is the hope of St. Michael’s and Pleasant Spring AME Churches that they can continue to work together toward the restoration of the grave markers, enclosing the sacred space with fencing, and acknowledging the historical significance of the cemetery. A memorial marker detailing the history of the cemetery, and those interred there, is planned for the site.