Grace Church, Rutherford, NJ

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Grace Church, Rutherford, NJ

Grace Church Parish History

Grace Church Parish in Rutherford came into existence May 11, 1869 after ten years of preliminary groundwork. This began in 1859 when Mr. Floyd Tomkins, who resided on the site formerly occupied by Fairleigh Dickinson University, now occupied by Felician College, started Union Sunday School. Eight years later, the ministry was expanded to include worship services held according to the usage of the Book of Common Prayer. These services were conducted by lay readers in the Rutherfurd Park Hotel (note original spelling). Because of the enthusiasm for these services, the organization of a parish in union with the Diocese of New Jersey was undertaken.

The congregation met with the Rev. W.G. Farrington, D.D. on April 24, 1869 and decided by ballot that the corporate name of the church should be “The Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of Grace Church in Rutherfurd Park”. At this meeting two wardens, five vestrymen, a secretary and treasurer of the vestry were elected and three deputies to the Diocesan Convention were chosen.

On May 11, 1869, the Rt. Rev. William H. Odenheimer, Bishop of the Diocese of New Jersey (this was prior to the formation of the Diocese of Newark), gave canonical consent of the formation of the parish and it became an integral part of the Diocese. The Rev. William H. Lord was the first Rector, called at a salary of $1200 with residence provided. In 1871 Mr. Lord retired. Thereafter, services were conducted at Union Hall by Mr. N.F. Boss, a lay reader.

In December 1871, a gift of land measuring 200 feet on West Passaic Avenue by 150 feet on Wood Street was given for a church by Mr. Floyd Tomkins. Ground was broken for the new church on September 5, 1872 and the cornerstone laid by Bishop Odenheimer, on October 14 of that year. The cost of the original church, which constitutes the present nave up to the beginning of the transepts, is listed as $7,957.48. The Rev. Edwin S. W. Pentreath served as Rector from 1872 to 1874. Serving as Rectors for brief terms were the Rev. R. M. Hayden and the Rev. E. Saunders. In 1885 the Rev. Francis J. Clayton became Rector. During his rectorship the remainder of the mortgage incurred in the building of the church was paid off. The great bell in the tower, which weighs 1,521 pounds and cost $750, was given by the ladies of the church.

Original church photo

On August 1, 1890 the cornerstone was laid for the new chancel and transepts. These were formally opened on February 5, 1891 by the Bishop of the Diocese, the Rt. Rev. Thomas A. Sharkey, D.D. This was the first time that a vested choir of men and boys sang in the church. The cost of this addition was approximately $12,000. The Rev. Mr. Clayton organized a mission in Arlington in 1886 and St. Thomas’ Mission in Lyndhurst in 1888.

The Rev. Henry M. Ladd became Rector in 1895. During his rectorship the rectory was built in 1903 at a cost of $8,850 and the Chapter House on Wood Street was completed in 1911, costing $13,944.

During this time several beautiful stained glass windows were installed, including the Altar Window in 1901 and the Gold Star Window, a memorial to our men lost in World War 1, in 1919. In1904 Mr. Ladd brought about the establishment of Grace Chapel in East Rutherford. He also served as Archdeacon of Paterson.

On June 25, 1922 the church was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Edward S. Lines signifying all indebtedness was paid off. Mr. Ladd retired in 1924 and was succeeded by the Rev. Charles W. Popham. During his rectorship the hung ceiling in the church was removed revealing the full beauty of the Gothic design of the original church. Eucharistic candles were introduced at this time, making Grace Church one of the last parishes in the Diocese to catch up with liturgical trends. The Women’s Chapter was conceived under Mr. Popham, by uniting the Missionary Chapter of St. Paul and the money-raising group, the Ladies Aid.

Mr. Popham was succeeded in 1945 by the Rev. Knud A. Larsen, III. At this time all grades in the church school above the kindergarten began worshiping in the church with parents and other adults. Thus, the Family Service was inaugurated. The Junior Choir of boys and girls was reorganized by the organist and choir director, Mr. Arthur B. Paulmier. The Acolytes’ Guild became affiliated with the National Order of St. Vincent. The Baptismal Font was moved to the room at the base of the tower, which came to serve as the Baptistry. In 1949 St. Elizabeth’s Chapter was formed to provide a means for women who could not attend afternoon meetings to have a part in all phases of the work of the church and Diocese. A Sanctuary light and an aumbry were installed during Mr. Larsen’s tenure.

Grace Church, Rutherford

Mr. Larsen was followed by the Rev. Richard N. Pease, who was instituted as Rector on Whitsunday 1951 by the Rt. Rev. Benjamin M. Washburn. Due to the need for expanded facilities, the parish approved a fund-raising program in 1953 for the erection of a new wing to the parish house extending from the north transept along the rear of the church property on West Passaic Avenue. The new parish house was completed in late spring of 1954 and was dedicated by Bishop Washburn at a festival service on May 23, 1954. Included in the building were ten classrooms and offices of the Rector and his administrative assistant. The cost of the building with equipment and furnishings amounted to approximately $100,000 and was paid off within three years. Other improvements included the rebuilding and redecoration of the Baptistry and the installation of a chancel rail and wooden altar rail given as memorials.

Just prior to the 100th Anniversary, a professional survey of our physical plant revealed serious weaknesses in the structure of the nave. The Vestry voted for an immediate program of restoration. Beginning in August 1968 services were transferred to the East Wing Parish House while restoration was in progress. An electric organ and the pews moved in from the church helped transform the upper hall into a temporary chapel, which was used until Easter 1969 when we were able to move back into the church.

During all this time the work of restoration and reinforcement was being carried on. the most readily visible interior signs of this work are the angle plates and tie rods firmly binding the nave truss members and roof timbers.

On the exterior, the entire church, nave, transepts, and chancel have undergone a very thorough going over including removal of the old “Civil War era” mortar and its replacement with modern durable Portland cement. A Narthex Screen was presented in 1971 and a new carillon was installed in 1974 replacing the previous one which was given in 1949.

From August 1962 to August 1963 Mr. Pease participated in a clergy exchange with the Rev. John F.C. White, Vicar of the Church of St. George the Martyr, Ramsgate, Kent, England. This exchange took place under the Wates-Seabury Plan, a program set up between the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Church of England.

In January of 1981 Mr. Pease retired and the Reverend Doctor Philip Cato became our interim priest. In 1982 the Reverend Doctor Edward Martin, Jr. was called as the permanent rector. During this time the Outreach Commission was formed (1983), The Rutherford Senior Housing Complex was sponsored by Grace Church (1987), and the Lay Eucharistic Ministers Guild was begun in 1987. The Homeless Shelter was established in 1988, and the roof and bell in the Bell Tower were renovated.

In 1994 the Reverend Doctor Edward Martin, Jr. resigned and was replaced by interim rector the Reverend Canon Edmund B. Partridge. In 1995 the Reverend Canon Edmund B. Partridge was called to be the permanent Rector after serving as an interim priest. Canon Partridge served until August 1, 2000.

Upon his arrival, the Endowment Fund was $310,000 and there was no Reserve for Contingencies Fund. In five years The Endowment Fund grew to over $530,000 A Reserve for Contingencies Fund of $30,000 was created. This is a fund separate from the Endowment Fund but similarly invested.

The Rev. David L. Gable followed Canon Partridge as the 10th rector of Grace Church. Father Gable served from February 2002 until March 2008. He expanded on the traditional mid-week service by offering lunch to those who attended. This has grown to include members of other community churches, and is an important part of worship at Grace Church.

The Memorial Garden was dedicated after its expansion as the Garden of Repose. New American and Episcopal Church flags were procured and mounted in the Transcepts of the church. A new gold-colored Dossal was procured and installed in the church sanctuary behind the High Altar and the entire East Building had central air conditioning installed.

Grace Church, along with the Presbyterian Church, took the initiative in creating the Rutherford Community Food Pantry. Other churches joined in this effort to make it a successful ecumenical outreach program.

During these years the financial structure of the Church substantially improved and the Church’s various Outreach and other programs were more than doubled in volunteer hours served and in dollars given. Grace Church, along with all other outreach obligations, sent hundreds of dollars in the relief of every major disaster in the world.


Last Supper window

Stained glass window
"Institution of the Last Supper"