A History of

Grace Memorial Episcopal Church

Lynchburg, Virginia 

by Aubrey Wiley

(This is not the official history web site for the church, which is given below. It is presented here in response to requests for a more complete and detailed account of the past of Grace Memorial and is an outgrowth of programs presented at the church in 2008.)

Grace Memorial Episcopal Church web site: http://www.gracelynchburg.org/history/index.htm


 

The recorded history of a church is not only a record of buildings erected for the glory of God, but it is a window for a glimpse of the people who have affected the church. It reveals the character of the congregation as God’s work is being done.

 

                                             1866                                                    1902                                                 1928

 

2009

 

As we start our time travel back to another century, let's imagine that we are in Lynchburg, Virginia in the early 19th century. We attend a worship service and afterward, we hear a child describe what he had seen: “I saw an old woman dressed in a black dress! Or maybe what I saw was an old man dressed as a woman!  The person leading the service was dressed in a big black dress!”  Odd isn’t it?  The date is Sunday, September 11, 1817 and what follows is an actual account. The occasion is the first visit to Lynchburg of an Episcopal clergyman, Rev. Richard Channing Moore of Richmond, then Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Virginia.  It takes place in the Methodist Meeting House in what is now the 1200 block of Main Street. The Methodist Meeting House had rented pews for attendees but the gallery was free!

“His appearance excited the wonder and astonishment of the good people of the town, particularly that of the small boys who verily believed the bishop to have been an elderly lady in a black morning wrapper!”  The account goes on, ”When he came in with his surplice on, the congregation started at him in amazement.” Furthermore, “only a few present had prayer books and could go through the service. One of these was an Englishman  who was in the gallery. He responded loudly and looked upon the congregation below in a patronizing air, as if he assured them that he pitied them in their ignorance!” But from this beginning, our mother church, St. Paul’s was formed. They continued to meet but they had to float from one location to another for some years. After the natal meeting at the Methodist church, they met in the Franklin Hotel, then in the Mason’s Hall, which was now at the nw corner of 9th and Church Sts..

Their first building was finished in time for the state convention in 1826 and some believe this structure still stands. One account I found from 1950 stated it to be standing then. It is about midway between Church and Court Sts. on 7th street. When built, it was surrounded by trees and reached by stone steps from Church Street.  In 1851, a new and larger church building as finished just a few yards away at the corner of 7th and Church. That building stands today as well, although its façade is greatly altered so that it does not resemble a church at all. The front of the church reached all the way to the current sidewalk  and probably at a higher level than now. When entering the building, there were two spiral stairways, one of either side of the entrance, going up to the second floor nave. The bell tower was in the far left corner. In 1905 with the building empty, the 900 pound bell was obtained for use at Randolph Macon Woman’s College by a trustee, P.R. Conway. It still rings today in Main Hall. From the 7th Street, we can see the ghost outline of three gothic windows on the west side of the building. The current St. Paul’s at 7th and Clay Sts. was finished in 1895.

Let’s return to 1817, where we started?  What had been available prior to that? We now shall go back to 1760 and consider what was happening here then. The French & Indian War was ending  and the colony of Virginia’s western border was the ridge of the Blue Mountains. West of there was French territory. Today, a traveler on the Blue Ridge Parkway may look west and be looking into what would have been French territory in 1765.

In Lynchburg, in 1765, a Church of England Chapel was finished. It was a small wood structure and it stood atop one of the higher points in the area. Lynchburg was not even a chartered town until 1786 so the settlement was then known as Lynch’s Ferry. The chapel location is on present day 1007 Court Street! It was in the Diocese of London, according to the studies of Lucy Baber. At that time, all missions in America were under the Bishop of London.  The “other” religion  was Quaker. Soon the chapel was surrounded by a cemetery called “God’s Acre,” which reached out on both sides and back to a branch, which would be present day Clay Street.   During the Revolution, 1775-1781, the church was “dis-established” and the building was used as a school until 1802 when it burned. A few burials continued until the cemetery we know today as “The Old City Cemetery” was opened in 1806.

Ashby Christian wrote in 1900 that during his childhood years, he watched houses being built on the south side of Court Street where the cemetery had been.  With one exception, workers found bones and graves as each house was being started. The exception was the James Watts house at 1007 Court Street, built in 1879, suggesting that it was the site of the Church of England chapel!  So we can conclude that from the closing of the Church of England chapel in the late 1770’s until the bishop’s coming in 1817, there had been nothing for those worshipers! 

St. Paul’s continued to flourish as already described and in 1851, the new building at the corner of 7th and Church Sts.  was finished.  In 1843, St. Paul’s had called the  25 year old William Henry Kinckle from Cumberland County. Kinckle was a native of Hagerstown, Md., of German descent and raised a Lutheran. The family’s means was meager to say it politely. Had it not been for a donor, Kinckle may not have been educated at all. However this donor, an attorney and a member of  the Episcopal church,  arranged for Kinckle  to go to a private school there in Hagerstown and then to Kenyon College in Ohio. After Kenyon, Kinckle next attended Alexandria Seminary in Alexandria, Va. On his graduation, it seems he obtained a clerical position at a church in Charlotte County, Va. And very soon became Rector of a church in Cumberland County, where he met the lady who would become his wife. Just before the Kinckle family was to leave Cumberland for Lynchburg, to settle a debt owed him, he accepted a male slave and his family. This in itself is the basis for another program I have given before to other groups because the character of  Rev. William Kinckle is revealed through this slave and his family! But for now, please know that the reverend Kinckle gave this slave, John Kinckle and his family their freedom and great things resulted for all involved as well as for the entire city of Lynchburg. It is a really beautiful story!

But it wasn’t long after his arrival at St. Paul’s before he started to have an impact on Lynchburg. In November 1847, Rev. Kinckle led other ministers to appeal for a public high school. The effort lasted only long enough for a cornerstone to be laid before it faded, but not forever. In 1856, the reverend and his wife, Maria, were leading the women of the church to train white and black children in reading, writing, arithmetic and sewing.

In 1857, interest within St. Paul’s surfaced for a new mission church in Diamond Hill, a growing suburb by today’s standard. Rev. Kinckle was chief among the enthusiasts for this new mission and on January 28, 1859, he met with residents of the area at the home of Charles M. Blackford on Pearl Street to discuss their mutual desires. This date is generally recognized as the birth date for Grace Church.  In subsequent meetings, proposed locations and construction price were major topics.  The idea for a new church had not only taken root but it was starting to sprout!  Property was donated on South Street, also known at the time as Campbell Courthouse Road and today as Grace Street. 

But happenings outside Lynchburg caused a hiccup. John Brown’s Raid at Harper’s Ferry, Va. in October 1859 caused a groundswell of concern and fear in Lynchburg, it being among the wealthiest cities in America when measured by per capita income.  Nonetheless, the seed of a new mission in Diamond Hill was continuing to sprout. In October 1860, a month prior to a landmark presidential election, at another organizational meeting, a name suggested by Rev. Kinckle was selected for the new church, “Grace Church Moore Parrish.”  Rev. Richard Channing Moore, whom Kinckle was honoring by the new church name, had been Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese and he died in Lynchburg on November 11, 1841 while he was visiting his parishes. He was 79.

Construction for the new Grace Church Moore Parrish was underway when Virginia was drawn into the Civil War in April 1861 and although it was nearly finished, it wasn’t the time for Grace to open. During the war, Lynchburg played a major role in storing and supplying ordinance for Virginia men in the Confederate Army.  The structure became a barracks for troops in transition. Perhaps it was occasionally used for some soldiers to convalesce in, but primary sources are clear that it was not a hospital as some post war writings have tried to glamorize it.

The Civil War took a heavy toll on Lynchburg. Almost an entire generation of young men was lost! Families were shattered and their lifestyles altered. The resilient character of Lynchburg once again prevailed and within months,  the movement for Grace resurfaced.   Due to the leadership of Rev. Kinckle, the little church building was put in order and some basic items of furniture were installed; a pulpit, some plain benches and a small cabinet organ. Commencing with the first service on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1866 and into 1867, Rev. Kinckle conducted services at St. Paul’s on Sunday mornings and at Grace on Sunday afternoons.

Started in 1859 and completed after the Civil War in 1866, the first Grace structure is shown on the left.

The winter of 1866-1867 was an unusually hard winter.  Memorable snows occurred back to back.  In January 1867, Rev. Kinckle was asked to lead a funeral service some seven miles into the country. The snow was so deep that the only way he could make the trip was by foot. Afterward, he became ill which developed into pneumonia.  Rev. Kinckle still continued to minister for the poor and through the deep snow, he was often seen, even at night ,carrying firewood on his back and in his arms for those in need. Rev. Kinckle’s work on earth ended on Saturday, March 2, 1867 with him being only 47 years of age. He had lost his wife, the mother of their six children, five years earlier.

Just a few years later in 1870, the name of Grace was changed to Grace Memorial to honor the Reverend William Kinckle as well as Bishop R.C. Moore.

Vestry minutes reveal that a church supported and operated a free school which was started in the late 1860’s, and it continued at least through the 1870’s  when city run public schools were becoming strong.

The Rev Henderson Suter was called to be rector of St. Paul’s and under his leadership, pledges were made so that Grace could support its own rector, Rev. James Grammer who guided Grace into a new chapter with his arrival in September 1867. The members of Grace were anxious to separate from St. Paul’s, to stand on their own feet and to give the church a voice in the “Council of the Diocese,” as vestry minutes state.  This separation of mother and mission was not smooth but it was finally accomplished by Grace becoming debt free in time for recognition at the annual council of the Diocese of Virginia which met May 24, 1868, at St. Paul’s..

The times of Grace were not always bright and smooth. In 1878 the rector resigned when the vestry admitted that they would not be able to make his monthly salary of $50 regularly.  When the rector resigned, the vestry asked him to reconsider because they would make every effort meet the salary in the future. He did reconsider …. but he developed his own plan to supplement his income. He rented out a portion of the rectory!  When the vestry found this out, it denied his request to do so. The problem became more complex and in 1892, the rector resigned the second and final time. When he left, he  claimed having a personal equity of $1750 in the rectory which he wanted the church to repay.

During the 1870's and 1880's, Grace had three chapels, sometimes called missions plus  the spiritual leadership of a 4th. They were: Emmanuel in Madison Heights; Christ Chapel on Cabell Street; and Grace Chapel near Robinson's Mill in Campbell County. The 4th mission where Holy Baptism and other services were provided was at St. Peter's near Mt Athos.

In 1883, to raise additional money, rented pews were started but the concept produced very little.  Stories of how difficult the times were for Grace are numerous and here is one example.  With church income so low, neighbors of the church allowed the rector to get an occasional scuttle of coal from their coal houses to heat the rectory.

In 1892, the vestry invited Rev. John J. Lloyd of Abingdon to come, which he accepted and the new man brought a gradual upswing in church matters.  Rev. Lloyd wrote soon after his start, "Lynchburg, a town of 25,000, had for years only one Episcopal church and that one, having rented pews and was set aside for the wealthy." The letter continues," Years ago, another church (Grace Memorial) was organized on a site chosen with a view to reaching the largest number of the poorer communicants of the city; but by a combination of unfortunate causes, it had long been in a state of spiritual and material decay!" "In 1893," he continued,  "the congregation was organized on the free pew plan with a view to making her essentially a poor man's church. Their efforts were crowned by immediate success."
In 1877 another Episcopal church was started in Lynchburg which would have an important role in the future of Grace Memorial. Epiphany Episcopal was started in a new building on McKinley Avenue at the corner with Marsh Street. In 1927, McKinley was renamed Fort Avenue and the church site can be seen today at the same corner, Fort and March Street. You will see stairs from the street leading nowhere. About 1918, Epiphany closed and the building became unused and sat dormant.

In 1897, a letter was sent to the bishop of the Diocese of Southern Va, in which Grace Memorial was asking permission to sell the property known as Christ Chapel on Cabell Street and that  the proceeds of the sale be directed to the work of Grace Memorial.

As the 19th century was drawing to a close, Lynchburg was enjoying a time of good economic prosperity and the 400 seat building used since 1866 was thought to be ready for replacement. Vintage accounts describe how plans for a “finer and more imposing” structure were decided upon and construction completed in late 1902 at a cost of $12,600.  The architect was J. M. B. Lewis, a member of the Grace congregation.

The 1902 Grace is pictured on the right.

In 1907, Dr. Lloyd succumbed to the urging of the bishop and accepted the call to the mining district in southwestern Va. He left Grace Memorial in July and about 3 months later a new rector arrived. This new man, Rev. Carlton Barnwell of Anniston, Alabama, wrote this to a friend, "There is no place at which you would be able to do a better work than here. Our congregation while not large or rich, is earnest, zealous and united. There is no factional spirit and no discord or jar of any sort. "

However, as bright a picture was that the new rector was seeing, the gloom of economic depression was rapidly approaching. By 1911, they had to reduce his salary from $2100 a year to $1800 a year. Other staff salaries were reduced as well. To bridge the financial gap, the rectory at Pearl and Chestnut Sts. was sold and a more modest home was purchased for the rectory at  915 16th street. On the upside, the Chapel of the Good Shepherd on 14th Street, which had been founded during Dr. Lloyd’s time, was physically established.


In 1913, Grace received the terrible news of one of her shining stars.  Dr. Lloyd died at his new church, St. Thomas Church, Abingdon, Virginia. His funeral service was held at Grace and his burial was at Presbyterian Cemetery, Lynchburg.

But the wreath of contentment to remain the same was no to be worn by Grace for long. In 1923, Bishop Robert C. Jett, the first bishop of the new diocese of SW Va.,  met with several Grace members at the home of a Grace member who was living in Fort Hill. The bishop wanted to urge the building a 4th Episcopal church in Lynchburg in the Fort Hill section of town.  St. John's on Rivermont Avenue held its first service in 1912.  Those attending this meeting with the bishop did not share his enthusiasm for another new church. There doesn't seem to have been any mention of closing the church in Diamond Hill at this meeting but the idea for Fort Hill had seen daylight!

The “merger” with St. Paul’s in 1926 is recorded from different points of view and we may never know which is the more accurate version. I shall draw heavily form the account  written by Reverend Robert Beeland.  The rector of Grace at the time was the young Rev. Carlton Barnwell, who had blossomed effectively at Grace. The rector of St. Paul’s was elderly and soon to resign. The vestry of St. Paul’s sent a letter to the vestry of Grace suggesting a merger with St. Paul’s with Rev. Barnwell of Grace to become the new rector. Custom generally forbids the movement of a clergyman from one parish to another within the same city. Grace was certainly not in financial straits, so that couldn’t have been the reason. By Beeland’s accounts, the members of Grace “felt that they must relinquish their church in Diamond Hill and merge with St. Paul’s for the common good.”  Two meetings were held by the two combined vestry’s and Bishop Jett attended the second meeting at which time, the opinions expressed became so heated that no vote was taken. 

In July, the Grace vestry solicited opinion cards from members and two thirds of the membership responded with the overwhelming vote being to decline St. Paul’s invitation for a merger by a margin of 2 to 1! 

But this was not to be the end! For reasons we do not know, some  members changed their minds and a second vote was taken at the urging of the bishop and this time, the idea flew, if St. Paul’s would agree to certain conditions laid out concerning Grace retaining ownership of certain properties. The vestry of St. Paul’s agreed and the merger became official on Sept. 26, 1926. The transfer of communicants took place November 1 with about 20% for the Grace membership going to St. John’s instead!

But the merger wedding was short lived. Some of the Grace Sunday School classes and the Women’s Auxiliary met separately from St. Paul’s. They appealed to the vestry of St. Paul’s to allow them to meet at the old Grace building, but they were turned down.  The Grace congregation met at the Fort Hill Club on Sept. 27, 1927 to organize and form a vestry.  They decided that the Fort Hill section would be the home for their church and property was purchased on New Hampshire Avenue, near Fort Avenue.  A 1927 City Directory reveals that at the time, there were no other structures on New Hampshire Avenue! 

The deed book in the Lynchburg Courthouse Clerk's Office for this property reveals something very interesting.  A deed was recorded for the new Grace and the date is on July 15, 1927! The deed was signed on July 5th and lists as trustees; A.P. Craddock, W.G. Willis and G.M. Shumate. This land, purchased by men identified as "trustees of Grace Memorial,"  happens more than three months prior to the official meeting to organize the church again! 

This aerial photograph was made during the winter of 1927-1928 and is looking north along Fort Avenue. The site of the 1928 Grace Memorial Church on New Hampshire Avenue is in the open area, just below middle, to the left of Fort Avenue.

The deed for the church property is recorded in deed book 154 on page 219 in the Lynchburg Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. The land was purchased from Marcellus N. Moorman, Jr. for $5,000 cash. This man’s father had been an innovator in artillery tactics during the Civil War while commanding Mooreman’s Battery. He was instrumental in the concept and developent of “Light Artillery!”

On January 13, 1928, Bishop Robert C. Jett wrote a letter to the former members of the former Grace Memorial in which he apologized for causing ill feelings;  asked for their forgiveness and explained his belief that he had done his duty to God in the matter. One can assume he is referring to the “merger” although he does not clearly state such. His introduction and conclusion reveal that he and his wife were leaving momentarily for a trip abroad for three months. 

In January 1928, the wheels were turning fast! The Grace vestry called Rev. William Pendleton, headmaster of VES, and in the same month, the contract was signed for the new building!  The next month, Dr. Pendleton accepted the call.  Church records disclose all sorts of fund raising projects under way from pancake suppers and sweet’s sales to benefit bridge parties! 

The cornerstone was laid on May 15, 1928.The council was in session at the time at St. John’s and it adjourned to allow attendees to attend the 5:00pm ceremony. Bishop Jett presided with assistance of Dr. Pendleton. Masonic rites were conducted as the cornerstone was placed. S. Preston Craighill and Bennett B. Cardwell were architects for the new church building.

As the building of the new Grace Memorial commenced, the demolition of Epiphany, the church near present day Miller Park, started and the long vacant building of Epiphany held many treasures: A Phoenix rose from Epiphany and another from the old Grace Memorial in Diamond Hill. The beautiful greenstone, which had been quarried nearby and hewn at the plant down on Fort Avenue, was taken from Epiphany and brought to Grace where it was used on the new church’s bell tower. The bell tower would be the new home for a crown jewel from the old Grace structure, the brass bell!  The bell from the first Grace structure had come from the old Lynchburg College that had closed during the Civil War in 1862. The campus had been at Eleventh and Wise Streets since 1854. The organ was brought from the Grace Street church and extensively reconditioned. The Diamond Hill Grace also furnished the pews and clergy chairs. 

The building was completed in August and the first services held on Sunday, September 1928. The following Sunday, Bishop Jett instituted Dr. Pendleton as rector, a rite rare at that time. The interior was furnished  with treasures from: the former Grace Memorial, Epiphany and Christ missions and Trinity Church of Rustburg. Newspaper accounts of the first services on Sunday, September 7, 1928 describe the immense enthusiasm of the members and guests as they gathered to worship and glorify God in the new place.

The consolidated debt of $35,000 seemed obtainable, but this was 1928.  Little did anyone know of what loomed darkly ahead. The depression began in the following year. This debt would finally be cleared and the church building of Grace was consecrated as a parish once again 25 years later on December 27, 1953.

By 1932, Grace was unable to come close to meeting financial obligations and the only solution they saw was to reduce staff salaries by 20%. Dr. Pendleton responded that because of his own obligations he could not absorb such a  cut. All agreed to a temporary cut of 10%. The beautiful church building, hailed as an architectural gem and one of the finest in the diocese, now appeared to be as much a burden as a blessing! Some questioned if it wouldn’t have been better to have built one less elaborate. In July, 1932, Pendleton and many parishioners felt their dreams were shattered and he resigned to become rector of a church in Covington, Ky., across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. 

Finding a new rector was hard. One man was invited but he declined because the pay was so little. The second man accepted and he started in the summer of 1933. As each month passed, not even monthly expenses were being met. Interest payments were not being met either, let alone any payment to the principle!  Minutes of the March 1938 vestry meeting reveal frank discussions on the financial condition of the church. After ten years, the debt amount was still $35,000! 

Then at the darkest hour, Bishop Jett notified the church that $8000 had been received by him and  could be given the church if the church could match that amount! There is some suggestion indicating the bishop’s fund of $5000 would be added. His fund was almost entirely a gift from a Col. Lecher of Lexington. Grace was unable to match the challenge but with Bishop Jett’s persuasion, the executive board approved the gift since Grace had raised $2500 of its own.  The result was that the indebtedness was reduced from $35,000 at 6% to $24,500 at 3%.  

As this decade closed, once again Grace would lose its rector to a rural parish.

World War II affected Grace as it did everyone else. Most of the pleasantries of life were stricken away, one by one, but those losses paled when the news came of the losses of area men in the war. To help with the local home guard work, the undercroft was offered as a shelter.

In February 1941 Grace moved ahead with a new rector who stayed for seven years and helped lead the church to better financial levels. It seems that he had an uphill task because some within the church dwelled on the forecast of doom for the church.  Nonetheless, as the years passed, so was the church indebtedness passing, slowly but surely. In 1948, it was down to $13,000.

With this man’s departure for the parish in Nelson County, his successor arrived in  four months from South Carolina.  During the time of Rev. L. Stanley Jeffery, the church’s building debt was cleared and the structure, Grace Memorial, was consecrated on Dec. 27, 1953. Also, a rectory was purchased at 1405 Rittenhouse. The undercroft was substantially improved in 1956 which added five classrooms and doubled the size of the parish hall-assembly room.  Beeland’s account describes how the church had grown in strength largely because of this rector and dedicated lay leaders. The arrival of new industry brought growth to the Fort Hill area and the future was looking very promising. In May 1957, Mr. Jeffery left to return to Carolina and in the following months, services were led by a second year student from the seminary in Alexandria, Va.  Bishop Marimon arranged contact with the Rev. Robert Beeland, then serving in Missouri. The vestry extended a call, which after some time, he accepted and assumed the church duties in February 1958.

1959 was the centennial year for Grace and Rev. Beeland and a committee planned several events to observe the conclusion of the first century and to kick off the start of the next century.  The weeks were packed with luncheons, dinners and special programs. Former Bishops, rectors and church leaders from the past were present and recognized. Old friendships were renewed as old stories were told over and over again. 

A common thread that was woven again during the centennial year continues; seeking the know God’s will and doing His work in our lives.

Much more remains to be told of the history of Grace Memorial Episcopal. But for now, one may see that the past of Grace does indeed reveal the character of its congregation since inception in 1859. It is a story of ordinary people doing their best to carry on God’s work. The words of the Reverend Kinckle describing Grace in 1866 are still as true in the 21st century as they were when he spoke them: “The field around it is wide.  It needs only to be faithfully worked to yield an abundant harvest.”

 

Grace Memorial is pictured at the congregation's 150th anniversary in 2009. Some of the stained glass windows are from earlier structures. The bell in the bell tower is from the original 1859-1866 structure and much of the greenstone is from previous Lynchburg Episcopal church buildings closed in the 19th century.  The basic structure shown here was completed in 1928 while the undercroft was improved and expanded in 1956. The atrium and educational wing were added in the 1990's.

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Rectors of Grace Memorial

1866 - 1867    Rev. William H.  Kinckle          1867 - 1869    Rev. James  Grammer
1869 - 1892    Rev. James  H. Williams            1893 - 1907     Dr. John L. Lloyd                    
1907 - 1912    Rev. Edwin R. Carter                 1912 - 1920     Rev. Claudius F. Smith
1920 - 1926    Carlton Barnwell                1926 Barnwell shared w/St. Paul's  during merger
1928 - 1932    Dr. William Pendleton              1933 - 1940     Rev. Richard H. Lee               
1941 - 1948    Rev. A. Hume Cox                       1949 - 1957     Rev. L. Stanley Jeffery
1958 - 1961    Rev. Robert A. Beeland III        1961 - 1963     Rev. Wiley W. Merryman
1964 - 1969    Rev. Richard D. Tyree                1969 - 1978     Rev. William  L. Shattuck     1979 - 1985   Rev. J. Robert Thacker                1986 - 1995     Rev. Thomas  E. Wilson
1996 - 2006   Rev.Christine Payden-Travers  2006 -               Rev. Catharine Montgomery

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