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.

A Time of Struggle

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.

ethnic and ecclesiastical prejudice that existed in earlier times was beginning to fade away

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.

A Time of Stabilization

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.

For more than thirty years, Grace’s rector also served the Saugatuck parish.

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.

Grace Grows

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.

In the 1970s developments included
    Celebrating Eucharist every Sunday at the main service
    The first woman elected to the Vestry
    Building up a sizable group of lay readers (now called Lay Eucharistic Ministers)
    Establishing the parish commission system
    Founding St. Martha’s (visiting) Guild
    Increasing Outreach, both in dollar giving and in local social concerns tending to ecumenical relations with other local churches
    Increasing participation in diocesan affairs
Developments in the 80s included
    Ordaining the first woman from Grace
    Launching Stephen Ministry
    Beginning the ministry of Cursillo
    Expanding the building
    Founding the Infant Care Center (a daycare center Grace maintained for twenty-two years)
    Integrating Taize music into worship
    Offering healing services
    Adding a part-time clergy staff member
In the 90s developments included
      Beginning the ministry of Holy Chow (small group meal sharing)
      Increasing laypersons’ roles in pastoral care; offering regular off-site communions in local care facilities
      Purchasing two homes adjacent to Grace for future growth possibilities
      Adding a greater variety of musical styles in Sunday services; hosting a local PFLAG group
    Since 2000
      Entering the two Grace houses into the Community Housing Partnership (serving as homes for families transitioning out of homelessness)
      Launching the day care center off-site
      Calling the first female rector
      Purchasing a third home adjacent to Grace
      Participating as host in a monthly mobile food pantry program
      Hiring a Children and Youth Ministries Director
      Renovating the Commons, lower level offices, meeting rooms, kitchens, entryways and undercroft
    We look forward to the next decade of Grace!