Grace celebrates its sesquicentennial in 2017

What a marvelous milestone! This sacred place means so much to so many people, and it has for 150 years. Beginning in July, there is one major event per month.  Many more details are coming soon. For now, save these “big event” dates. Then prayerfully consider how you personally will celebrate this historic occasion in the life of our parish.

    • July 4—Heritage Parade during the National Cherry Festival
      Join us as we walk in celebration of our sesquicentennial anniversary.
    • August 27—Great Grace Timeline
      An interactive timeline will be installed in the Parish Hall. Trace the history of our parish. Where does your story fit?
    • September 9—Church Picnic
      Bring a favorite side dish to share. The church will provide meat entrées and dessert.
    • October 14-15—Community Open House
      We will invite our community to celebrate with us as we honor our outreach ministries.
    • December 10—Sesquicentennial Worship Celebration
      Bishop Whayne Hougland from the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan will join us for this special worship celebration.
[Throughout our sesquicentennial year, we are presenting a series of occasional articles about Grace’s legacy of faith.]

Grace on the move

The 1880s were marked by an initial peak in enthusiasm under the leadership of Rev. Joseph S. Large of Big Rapids, who saw Grace’s communicant list double in size.

However, things took a turn for the worse by 1886 as attendance dropped dramatically and the parish suffered financial problems. Bishop George D. Gillespie visited Grace on January 31, 1886, and reported: “The outlook here is not encouraging, removals have thinned the members and more decreased the strength.” Late that year, he noted that Rev. Large, after more than seven years of service, had resigned. He added: “There is a painful indifference that keeps the church closed and has even dismissed the Sunday School.”

Photo of moving Grace Episcopal Church, 1897. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

Photo of moving Grace Episcopal Church, 1897. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

Over the next couple of years, two priests from St. Paul’s, Elk Rapids—Rev. Luther Pardee and Rev. S. Chipman Thrall—visited Grace and tried unsuccessfully to resurrect the dormant parish. The situation worsened, and in 1890, Grace came under charge of the General Missionary.

Eventually lay interest in the congregation resurfaced, particularly under the leadership of longtime warden Elvin L. Sprague. The population of Traverse City had increased significantly, and soon monthly worship services were held with lay readings given on other Sundays. Bishop Gillespie noted after a visit to Grace on February 15, 1891: “Would the Parish catch the spirit of the place, it would soon revive.” The passion for Christian witness was reignited, leading to the calling of Rev. Albert E. Wells as rector. Bishop Gillespie announced to the diocesan convention on June 3, 1893: “Traverse City, after long vacancy, has now the leader under whom they may grow if they will.”

Around this time, Grace’s location on State Street became no longer ideal. Bishop Gillespie pointed to this need after a visit on November 19, 1893: “The surroundings of the church render removal necessary and in my judgment, a good site with the present chapel, or better, a new church on it is the only hope of giving us in this growing city a worthy Parish.”

Grace acquired a larger lot at the corner of Washington Street and Boardman Avenue, where our current church now stands. Perry Hannah gave the parish $1,200 for the site on State Street, this being the exact price asked by the Ladies’ Library Association for the new lot. In November 1897, after numerous delays, the church was moved by horse on its wooden foundation to its new home.

Grace reopened in January 1898. Other building improvements, including new windows to allow more light into the building, were also made. Bishop Gillespie celebrated this transformation during his address at the diocesan convention in 1899: “Traverse City having last year seen the Church placed on the lot for some time held, the interior has lost the gloom of lack of light by day and night, has been made attractive with Chancel improvements, and the Parish is coming up to what so flourishing a city demands.”

Grace is born

Rev. Albert C. Lewis, rector of St. Paul’s, helped establish the first Episcopal parish in Traverse City. His occasional trips from Elk Rapids led to more frequent visits when the response to his work bore fruit.

Grace officially was born on August 12, 1873, when articles of agreement were signed by John Frank Grant, E. L. Sprague, L. O. Saylor, S. S. Wright, Homer P. Daw, and F. J. DeNeven and the parish was given its name. On September 15, a meeting was called by Rev. Lewis at the home of L. O. Saylor and these signers and Frank L. Furbish were elected as Grace’s first vestry with E. L. Sprague as senior warden.

For the next three years, Grace did without its own rector and survived on monthly services conducted in rented spaces by Rev. Lewis. One location was called Campbell House, now the Park Place Hotel, and another was Leach’s Hall, which was on the southwest corner of Park and Front Streets.

Grace’s first confirmation occurred in May 1875 when Bishop George D. Gillespie, first bishop of the newly formed Diocese of Western Michigan, visited Traverse City. Later in December, Bishop Gillespie held services in the Congregational Church, where he baptized four adults and confirmed six. He also met with the vestry and discussed the possibility of building a chapel. In the diocesan convention minutes, Bishop Gillespie reported: “The Rev. A. C. Lewis officiates here monthly. The Mission is in that condition which results from having no local habitation. The church is not properly presented to the community. I hope her people will feel this, and by erecting a chapel, place her in her true position.”

Photo of Grace Episcopal Church on State Street, circa 1880, next to the European Horse Hotel

Photo of Grace Episcopal Church on State Street, circa 1880, next to the European Horse Hotel

Under Rev. Lewis’ direction, the church canvassed the community to gauge potential support. Early in 1876, the people of Grace raised money to build on a lot on State Street, 33 feet wide, that had been donated by Perry Hannah (an AT&T building across from Max’s Service now sits on that lot). The project broke ground in July; the contract was given to J. W. Hilton, who completed it for $1,965.00. Bishop Gillespie returned and consecrated the new chapel on November 12, 1876, and was especially pleased that “a robing room and not a closet” was a feature.

The first clergyperson called to Grace was Rev. William H. Sparling, deacon, who administered while Rev. Lewis assisted with the elements. At the diocesan annual convention held at Trinity Church, Niles, on May 31, 1877, the parish of Grace Church, Traverse City, was formally admitted to the diocese.
(Published on Facebook 8/4/2017)


Pioneer Clergy

Photo by J. Gurney & Son. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Michigan’s population expanded in the mid-1800’s. The population in 1830 was 31,639, but by 1840 it had jumped to over 200,000. To provide spiritual support, the Diocese of Michigan (there was only one diocese until 1875) sought to establish mission stations in the western and northern regions of the state.

Clergy shortage and financial constraints were serious concerns for the young diocese, but the sending of pioneer clergy continued up the western coast of Lake Michigan. Bishop Samuel A. McCoskry was concerned but hopeful: “In the midst of all these trials God has not deserted us. The Church is gradually extending and additions are made, of such, I hope, as shall be saved.” In September 1866, Bishop McCoskry sent Rev. Marcus Lane to be the first rector of St. Paul’s in Muskegon. During his first year, Rev. Lane held services in other coastal towns, including Pentwater and Traverse City.

Because of the rapid increase in population in the Grand Traverse region due to the lumber industry, the diocesan Missionary Committee allocated funds to support a missionary in Traverse City but none was available. Instead, itinerant priests from neighboring mission stations were utilized.

Nearby in Elk Rapids, an Episcopal parish was founded in 1867 and reorganized two years later under the name of St. Paul’s. Newspaper records state that missionary priests from Elk Rapids would travel by boat to various points along Grand Traverse Bay to hold occasional worship services with Episcopalians residing there. Rev. Albert C. Lewis, one early priest from St. Paul’s, came to Traverse City and supported the fledgling faith community there for several years.

We are grateful for early pioneers like Bishop McCoskry and Rev. Lane, who planted seeds of faith, and for Rev. Lewis and others who watered them. Praise God who made them grow!
(Published on Facebook 7/28/17)

Begin at the Beginning

This year we’re celebrating our sesquicentennial, but there were faithful Episcopalians in Traverse City years before Grace Church was even born.

Perry Hannah and Albert Tracy Lay, circa 1903. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library.

Perry Hannah and Albert Tracy Lay, circa 1903. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library.

Albert Tracy Lay, longtime business partner of Perry Hannah, was a devout Episcopalian and spent much time here in the early 1850s supervising his lumber business. He and Hannah alternated in the management of their affairs here and back in Chicago where their firm was headquartered.

Around 1852, assisted by a civil engineer named Whelpley, Lay was instrumental in laying out the plat map for the town of Traverse City. He also helped secure a postal route for the new town, originally naming it Grand Traverse City (to distinguish it from the Grand Traverse post office on Old Mission).

Lay was a man of faith, an advocate of Sunday school, and was instrumental in giving lay readings for the spiritual benefit of the people of the area before a clergyperson of any denomination had settled here. Catherine, his wife, was a devout Episcopalian as well, the daughter of a priest from New York.

Details are thin, but a family by the name of Churchill arrived in the harbor in the summer of 1853. Mrs. Churchill was taken ashore dangerously ill, living only a few days. At her funeral, Lay read the Episcopal burial service at the grave, the second burial at which religious services were held in Traverse City.

Lay eventually chose the Chicago area as his permanent home, and Hannah remained here in Traverse City.

A biographical piece written about Lay in 1912, when he was eighty-six, spoke of his character: “His contributions to worthy charities and benevolences have been liberal and invariably unostentatious, and he is one of whom it may justly be said that he would do good by stealth and blush to find it fame.”

We thank God for the faith and testimony of Albert Tracy Lay, one of our earliest Episcopalian forebears.
(Published on Facebook 7/21/17)