Grace Church is celebrating 125 years in Norwood
The first public Episcopal service in Norwood was held on April 15, 1888 in Village Hall, with the Rev. John Hewlitt officiating. Three times over the next seventeen years Episcopalians tried to form a church in Norwood. Early services were held in Village Hall, Odd Fellows’ Hall, the Methodist-Episcopal Chapel and sometimes people’s homes. Someone arranged for supply ministers and made the arrangements to “rent” either Village or Odd Fellows’ Hall. Finally, the third try took hold. In 1904 Rev. Albert George, who was the rector of Church of the Epiphany in Walpole, would come over to Norwood and hold evening services. Rev. George is credited as the “founder” of Grace Mission and gave us the name we use today – Grace. Rev. George preached at the 10th year anniversary observance in 1915 and in his sermon he explained why he chose this name – “You must have your heart in a work to make it successful, and you must be sure it is a good work. For that reason I called this church Grace Church. Grace means help, but it implies divine and human help working together.”
The original Grace Church was located on Washington Street, Norwood
And so Grace Church life began. One of, if not the first, organizations within Grace Church to form was the Women’s Guild, created in March 1905. These women were relentless and had unbound energy. If not for this group of women who fundraised, baked, organized fairs and sales, this third effort also would surely have failed. Names included Berwick, Bigelow, Frost, Lailey, Laidlow, Shannon, Uphill, Wood and Winslow - familiar names that would continue to pop up over the years in Grace history. Another early organization (1910) was the Circle of King’s Daughters formed for the purpose of organizing a society for missionary and social purposes.
On May 4, 1907, there was a meeting of interested persons to formally organize and Grace's first curate, Rev. Arthur Fenderson, presided. Rev. Fenderson didn’t last long at Grace. He was a senior divinity student and once ordained a priest he took a call elsewhere. The Rev. Dr. Percy Owen-Jones then came to Grace for a year. While Rev. Owen-Jones was at Grace the land on Washington Street was bought for $3,500 from Dr. Cragin.
One of the ways the church raised the money to purchase the land was to issue Lot Purchasing Cards. For every 25 cents – which represented one square foot of land - the holder of the card would punch a hole in a square. The Grace Church archives includes a card for a Mr. Shannon and pin pricks can be seen in the card for each time he made a donation. Other people and organizations pledged money, including Bishop Lawrence, the Girls' Friendly Society, James Berwick, Grace Episcopal Church, Archdeacon Samuel Babcock, Mrs. Vickery and Mr. Shannon. Finally the warranty deed was signed on April 29, 1908 and Grace Church became a landowner. The lot extended from Washington Street back to Beacon Avenue. There was a great deal of interest in the formation of an Episcopal Church in Norwood and many people who did not belong to the Episcopal church aided in the purchase of the land, demonstrating the strong community support and encouragement from Norwood and its neighbors to build an Episcopal church in town.
The Rev. Charles Hastings Brown arrived in 1909 and led Grace Church for the next 32 years. He is credited with shaping the identity of who Grace is today. He had a great love of children, education, music and community service - all elements Grace still cherishes today. Rev. Brown retired in 1941 and passed away in 1943 in his boyhood home of Beverly. A friend wrote after his passing "No one I ever knew tried harder than he to serve faithfully and to give of his very best." In 1948 the Lord's Ascension window was dedicated in his memory and to this day overlooks the entrance of Grace Church.
The church also had to raise funds to build the church. There were three groups who were assigned to visit with people to solicit subscriptions. By May 6, 1910, they had raised $3,400 to build the church. Invitations were soon sent out for the laying of the cornerstone which took place on October 2, 1910. The cornerstone itself cost $35. A picture from that day in October 1910 when the cornerstone was laid shows a smiling Rev. Charles Hastings Brown and Rev. Albert George. In the Grace archives is the list of people who attended the ceremony. And on this same day a document was signed of the people “officially interested in erection of this building.” The people who signed included the bishop, rector, warden and officers of the parish, building committee and architect. The design of Grace Church was by J. Lawrence Berry, a Boston architect. The first service was held on February 19, 1911 when the church and several memorials were officially dedicated and celebrated.
After Rev. Brown's departure, Rev. John Moulton was called in 1942 and he served Grace during the war years. He and his family were in Norwood for just three years before their move to Hawaii. Next came Rev. George Rowell Crocker. He too only served Grace for three years before taking a call to New Bedford. Rev. Franklyn Boardman arrived in 1948 and he and his family jumped right into Grace Church life. He seemed to be very active but sadly suffered a major heart attack and he too left after just three years. Rev. John Parke arrived next. His leaving, again after three years, coincided with Grace Church’s Golden Jubilee. Rev. Parke wrote the 1955 history of Grace before accepting a call to California.
Rev. Edwin W. Grilley, Jr. arrived in 1955. Grace Church was quickly growing and outgrowing its space. Diocesan statistics from that time period show that Grace Church had 173 communicants in 1927, 206 in 1942 and then more than doubled in size to 420 by 1957. Grace had outgrown its space. The end of the church on Washington Street was in sight. The parish house could no longer accommodate all the Sunday School children, youth programs and other classes and meetings. The church at its Washington Street location could not expand and so it became time to start seeking a new location. The last service at Grace Church on Washington Street took place on June 3, 1962.
The church on Washington Street, the parish house/rectory on Beacon Street and land were sold to Walter Dempsey, a Norwood businessman and selectman. Church wardens remarked at the sale “We cannot enter into this sale without pausing to reflect upon the significant contribution our present church has made toward the growth of our parish. We certainly are grateful to those who recall the erection of our present church in 1910, and have actively participated in the work and worship of the parish since that time. It is with the same pioneering spirit that was exhibited in 1910 that we are now constructing a new edifice on Chapel Street to meet the current and future needs of our parish … We are following the progress of the Chapel Street construction with much enthusiasm and feel that when the job is done we will have benefited not only ourselves, but will have added to the attractiveness of Norwood as a community in which to live.”
The church is presently located on Chapel Street, Norwood
Rev. Edwin Grilley, Jr. and his "Committee of Five" oversaw the expansion plans of the "new" Grace Church. In early 1958 a parcel of land, approximately 3 1/2 acres on Chapel Street, was advertised for sale. The land was a portion of the original Plimpton Estate, owners of the Plimpton Press, and at that time was owned by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. A confidential bid was submitted by Grace Church for the purchase of the land. The bid was accepted and Grace became the new owner of 150 Chapel Street for a price of $17,250.
As an indication of the parish's pride and excitment, a sign was erected in April 1959 on the new church site announcing to everyone who passed "New Home of Grace Episcopal Church - 'Direct us, O Lord in all our doings.'"
The first spade of soil was turned by Rev. Grilley in June 1961 at the ground breaking ceremony. A chrome plated shovel, donated by Edward L. Morrill of the Morrill Construction Co., “was used by the rector and junior warden and other parishioners to break ground near the spot where the altar of the new church will stand.” The rector, wardens and “Committee of Five” along with parishioners witnessed “the beginning of a new era in this Parish.” Actual work began several days later and the new construction was fully underway under the direction of architect Maurice A. Witmer of Portsmouth, NH and builders Lyman and Edward Morrill. During the end of July/early August the cement foundation was poured. And on October 15, 1961, Bishop Anson Stokes helped the congregation celebrate the laying of the cornerstone at 150 Chapel Street. The interior of the church was designed to reflect the old church on Washington Street and a comparison of pictures of the two sanctuaries certainly reveal how close they came to matching that design. The altar, pulpit, bishop’s chair and lectern were all moved to the new building as were the two large and side stained glass windows. The old pews now reside in the choir loft.
In September 1962, The Right Reverend Anson Phelps Stokes, Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, conducted the dedication services which were attended by approximately 600 people including Norwood town officials, visiting clergymen, parishioners and friends. The Bishop, in addressing the congregation at the dedication, remarked, “The church is a traditional meeting place. Houses are built to shut people out, but the doors of an Episcopal church swing inward and outward, a place where all are welcome to worship.”
The site of Grace Church on Chapel Street is on the original property of the Plimpton Estate. Their grandson, The Rev. Hollis Plimpton, had a fillfulling ministry in Canada before retiring from full-time duties as an Episcopal priest. It was after his retirement that Rev. Plimpton "returned home" and became Grace's Priest Emeritus. He shared his memories of spending time with his grandparents and reading as a young child in the Sunken Garden, restored to its original glory. Father Plimpton called Grace his "wonderful family in Christ." He and Charity are pictured.
After having four rectors within twelve years, Grace Church enjoyed some stability as Father Grilley remained at Grace until his retirement in 1970. Upon his retirement to Rhode Island he continued doing part-time work for the Diocese of Rhode Island as well as serving Grace Church whenever needed until a new rector was called. Father Grilley is remembered particularly for two attributes which still characterize Grace Church: a strong ecumenical relationship with other churches in Norwood, and a warm, friendly and caring spirit within the parish.
Rev. Grilley was succeeded by the Rev. George Hearn, who served the parish faithfully for the next fourteen years. During this time the church greatly expanded its outreach ministry and acquired its pipe organ. The Rev. Hearn resigned in 1984.
Following a two year interim, the Rev. David G. “Chip” Robinson was installed as rector in November 1986. The Rev. Robinson brought youth, energy, new ideas and renewed dedication to Grace Church. The Ecumenical Community Food Panty of Norwood was created during his tenure. The church continues to house the pantry which serves approximately 350 Norwood families. When the Rev. Robinson resigned to assume a new position in New Hampshire in November 2000, he left a parish, which, although still small, continued to be known for its warm fellowship and active community outreach.
In 2003 the Rev. Kate Ekrem was called to serve at Grace Church. Rev. Kate brought a renewed commitment to the spiritual development of our children and youth as well as continuing the traditions of Grace Church through active community commitment, pastoral care and evangelism.
Rev. R. John Brockmann became Grace's tenth rector in July 2010. Father John has continued and expanded Grace's commitment to our children and youth with the re-establishment of the children's chapel and services specifically geared for children and families. His love of gardening spurred the planting of the Community Contemplative Orchard on the church's side lawn which consists of about two dozen New England heritage fruit trees. Meditative plaques have been placed by many of the trees. Their growth will provide a place of peaceful reflection to visitors as well as fresh fruit in the future for the food pantry.