Raise Mine Ebenezer.

Ebenezer Church - 
The Bible tells us that “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer, explaining, ‘The Lord helped us to this very point.’” (1 Samuel 7:12, CEB).

The Israelites took the moment to turn again from disobedience finding restoration in God.

Robert Robinson penned the words of the traditional hymn “Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing” in 1758. It, too, referenced Ebenezer:
Here I raise mine Ebenezer hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens told the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. The 1843 novel found the miserly Ebenezer begging for the opportunity to re-embrace life.

Whether from the Old Testament, the hymnist, or Dickens, the word Ebenezer conjures up a recognition of our need to be restored so that we can fully embrace life.

There is another reference to Ebenezer even closer to home in rural Jessamine County. A log meeting house constructed in the mid-1790s and there met a congregation identified as the Ebenezer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

The founding minister was Adam Rankin who was a circuit-riding minister based in Lexington. Some believe his home, which was relocated to Lexington’s Mill Street several decades ago but remains standing, is the oldest in Lexington. It was Rankin who began many of the Presbyterian congregations in central Kentucky. Among them are Pisgah and Glenn’s Creek in Woodford County and Mount Zion (now First Presbyterian) in Fayette County.

The long lens of history has found Rankin to have been a disagreeable fellow. In 1789, he rode by horseback from Kentucky to a denominational convention in Philadelphia. There, he fought against the use of modern, contemporary hymns in worship. For Rankin, the worst offense was Isaac Watts’ enthusiastic “Joy to the World.”

Ultimately, Rankin would be permanently suspended from the ministry. He experienced his own restoration, however, as the first president of Miami University in Ohio. Before then Rankin served as Ebenezer’s minister until 1803 whereafter he was replaced by Rev. Robert Bishop.

In the same year, the old log meeting house was replaced by a stone church which stands today as the oldest such structure in Jessamine County.

The ensuing decades took its toll on the congregation and the building was abandoned in 1883. Once abandoned, the toll was taken on the structure as the roof collapsed and several of the walls had fallen.

But the story doesn’t end there. For there is restoration for this Ebenezer, too.

In 1953, an organization was formed to care for the cemetery, a few thousand dollars was spent by the Ebenezer Cemetery Association to install a new roof, new windows, shutters and restore “the design of the old building as closely as possible.”

The old structure remains cared for a half century later. According to the 1983 application to the National Register of Historic Places, the Ebenezer Church is the only remaining stone church in Jessamine County and the oldest religious structure in the county dating from the settlement period.

The prophet Samuel took a stone and set it up and named it Ebenezer. Here, in Jessamine County, our own Ebenezer still stands thanks to those who gave it the opportunity to do so.

It is a tranquil, country church surrounded by the headstones of those who once worshipped here.

Though Ebenezer’s doors remain closed most of the year, one can easily find restorative peace in this place. There are many such places in our county. But as for Ebenezer — there’s just something about that name.

This column originally appeared in the Jessamine Journal
It should not be republished without permission.
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