Grace Episcopal Church is one of the oldest churches in Holland. In the years just after the Civil War, the Episcopal diocese in Detroit considered the Lakeshore area in the west a missionary district. A priest came over from Ionia one Sunday in August 1866 to conduct two services and baptize 11 persons. Later, the rector of the church in Grand Haven held occasional services in the home of a community leader, Manly D. Howard, and in the fall of 1867 the group decided to formally organize as a parish. The Rev. J. Rice Taylor, with the title Missionary Rector, added not only Holland but also Saugatuck to his duties in Grand Haven.
Three other church buildings preceded what we now call Grace Church, which became home to the parish in 1954. The group met at first in a remodeled schoolhouse on 10th Street, between River and Central Avenues. This was destroyed along with most of the town’s center in the fire of 1871.
The group then met over a saloon for a while, then in the town hall, but services were sporadic until a handsome new building was completed in the Carpenter Gothic style in 1873, on the corner of 11th and Pine. This was also destroyed by fire, in 1886. Graces third home was on 9th Street just west of River, the building now occupied by Holland’s Civic Theater. But by the early 1950s we had outgrown it, and the present church was built. Thirty years later more room was needed, so the church was expanded to the north and west and the St. Andrews Courtyard and Resurrection Garden were added to it.
The first thirty years were obviously a time of struggle but not only because of the two fires (plus another in 1886 that damaged the rectors home.) There were also the issues of the debt resulting from needing to rebuild, the frequent turnover of priests, and dwindling membership from the 70 enrolled at Grace’s inception. Services were held irregularly at times. But fortunately, during this time and to Grace’s favor, the ethnic and ecclesiastical prejudice that existed in earlier times was beginning to fade away.
The next forty years were a time of stabilization, despite rectors staying, on average, for less than three years. For more than thirty years, Grace’s rector also served the Saugatuck parish. Soon after the turn of the century, Grace was able to add a Guild Room, a rectory, and a pipe organ. Occasional signing services were held for the hearing-impaired (led by a diocesan General Missionary to Deaf-Mutes) and summer services on Ottawa Beach. But in the Depression, when the rectory had to be sold to make ends meet, it became more difficult to call and keep priests.
Sometimes the parish had to settle for a seminarian. Especially important during this time was a succession of dedicated lay members, women and men, who helped keep Grace going and growing.
The 25-year ministry of Father Warner began in 1943. By mid-century Grace had 300 communicants and it was time to relocate to where the church building now stands. Fr. Warner led the parish through this major undertaking and then, in the turbulent 60s, helped set the course for a positive response to movements such as liturgical reform and concern about racism at home and the needs of developing nations abroad. His sudden death in 1968 left much still to be done in several important areas.
Now to touch quickly on developments during the five rectorates since 1968 on aspects of parish life that we take for granted today, but have only come into being in recent decades.