Voice of the Vestry | By Peter Kobs

Where Have We Been, and Where are We Going?

By Peter Kobs | April 26, 2024


Where have we been and where are we going? That’s a question every organization, and every parish, needs to answer.


In 1875, construction for the original Grace Church began on State Street between Cass and Union on land donated by Hannah, Lay & Company (see photo).


The world was a very different place. Or was it?


The nation’s total population in 1875 was about 40 million, only 11 percent of our current total. Closer to home, roughly 5,000 people lived in Grand Traverse County, mostly in Traverse City.


On March 1, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to prohibit racial discrimination in public accommodations and jury duty.  Yet, only three days later, Congress passed the Page Act, which essentially prohibited the immigration of Chinese women, marking the historic end of open borders in America. Chinese men were banned seven years later.


In June 1875, two American colleges – Harvard and Tufts – played the first official game of college football. Ulysses S. Grant was president, automotive pioneer Walter Chrysler was born, and political curmudgeon Boss Tweed escaped jail on the way to Cuba.


In November 1875, the nation’s “Indian Inspector” declared that hundreds of Sioux and Cheyenne tribal members who were associated with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were hostile to the United States, setting the stage for the bloody Battle of the Little Bighorn (“Custer’s Last Stand”) the following year.


The Massachusetts Rifle Association, “America’s oldest active gun club”, was formed in December 1875, and a crushing economic depression was well underway.

Almost a year later, on November 12th, 1876, the original Grace Episcopal Church was dedicated.


So what’s the point in learning all that stuff?


The point is actually pretty simple – our Grace Church forebears were struggling with many of the same issues we face today: Racial animosity. Fears about immigration. Political corruption. Economic hardships. Industrial innovation. Rapid population growth. And, of course, college football rivalries.


The people who worshipped at Grace 150 years ago found guidance and solace from the same vital sources we depend on today: Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Spirit, Holy Scripture, good clergy, the liturgical tradition, and each other.


If you could go back in time on a Sunday morning 150 years ago, perhaps you’d wander into the first Grace Episcopal Church and hear a sermon by the popular Rev. Joseph Large. Maybe you’d notice some differences in the Book of Common Prayer or the order of service.


If you had tea with members of the Grace Church vestry, you might hear concerns about building size, maintenance and finances. You’d learn about the parish’s outreach programs to help the poor Traverse City.


Fast forward now to 2024 and you’ll discover that the people of Grace carry on many of the same traditions and commitments that enlivened our founders.


We’ll also remember that Grace is not just a social club or service organization – we are first and foremost a place where people can come together to worship “in the beauty of holiness.” 


Energized by the Holy Spirit, and by each other, we are bringing the light of Christ to others in our community and to the world at large.


Are we up to that most important mission? I certainly think so. Just remember the words of that old African-American song from the 1920s:


“This little light o’ mine, I’m goin’ let it shine.
This little light o’ mine, I’m goin’ let it shine.
This little light o’ mine, I’m goin’ let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

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