Rev. Deborah Scott presents Vision Keeper Award to Donald “Rudy” Sanders. Photo by Ronald Davis

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This year, the congregation of Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church celebrated 135 years of continuous ministry and service to the Evanston community. An anniversary banquet was held in September at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center in Evanston, where members and friends of the church remembered the past and looked toward a promising future. Reflecting upon the milestone celebration, Ebenezer anniversary committee chair Alice Aikens said, “It was an awesome time to celebrate God and Ebenezer. We have a great history here, and hopefully, we continue to move forward.”

When the church’s earliest members began meeting in various homes and downtown Evanston meeting halls, they relied on word of mouth and the postal service to communicate; the telephone was still in its infancy. Ebenezer now utilizes social media, including a Facebook page, where the church is described as “an intergenerational community of faith that values family and community.”

Ebenezer’s first house of worship was built under the leadership of Rev. George H. Hann at 1813 Benson Ave. between Clark Street and University Place on land leased from Northwestern University.  After a fire destroyed the frame structure in 1902, new land was purchased in 1903 from Northwestern to create a church home on Emerson Street, which was completed in 1908. Ebenezer’s mortgage was paid off during World War I, and in 1923, a 60-foot addition was built. The church survived the hardships of the Great Depression, but had to take out a new mortgage, which they paid
off by 1943.

Throughout the decades, continued growth allowed the church to purchase a parsonage at 1614 Greenwood St. during the 1950s. By the late 1960s, Ebenezer was under the pastorate of Rev. Jacob Blake, a leader in the charge for equal and fair housing practices in Evanston. After some hard- fought battles, Ebenezer Primm Towers, a 107-unit affordable housing community for seniors at 1001 Emerson St., was built. The church expanded its commitment to providing housing for seniors by opening Jacob Blake Manor at 1615 Emerson St. in 2003. “We’re in the center of our two major pillars, Jacob Blake Manor and Primm Towers,” Ms. Aiken said, referring to the church’s current structure at 1109 Emerson St., which is recognized as a national landmark building.

Ebenezer continues its tradition of community outreach with service projects that range from providing school supplies for Evanston elementary school students to maintaining their Soup Kitchen Ministry, which provides a meal and a safe place to gather for those experiencing economic and housing instability. “We’re still active in the community. The church is still relevant for today, “ said Rev. Deborah Scott, who has been pastor since 2016.

The church withstood another devastating fire in 1980, which destroyed its historic records and gutted its interior. The congregation met at Garrett Biblical Institute until the church was re-dedicated in 1982. Founded 100 years prior, on Oct. 30, 1882, Ebenezer AME is the oldest black church in Evanston, followed immediately by Second Baptist, which was founded less than a month later, on Nov. 15, 1882.

In her reflections on Ebenezer’s anniversary banquet, anniversary committee member Gerri Sizemore summed up the faith, spirit, and optimism shared by members of the Ebenezer congregation. “We’re still here after 135 years,” Ms. Sizemore said.