History of Grace
Grace's history is predated by that of its founding church, St. James the Greater in Bristol which was consecrated on July 25, 1712. After Philadelphia and Chester, Bristol is the third oldest town in Pennsylvania. St. James was the first church in the town of Bristol and the only Episcopal church in Bucks County for 119 years. After the Revolutionary War, and the split with The Church of England, the once colonial parishes, divided into dioceses. The Diocese of Philadelphia was established in 1784 by its ten founding parishes, St. James the Greater being one of the ten. Two years later diocesan representatives met to elect its first bishop, the Rt. Rev. William White. After years of work in the creation of a new American church, in 1792 the Episcopal Church was officially established as a denomination with a bicameral governing structure: a House of Bishops and House of Deputies, not unlike the U.S. Congress. Constitutions and Canons were carefully crafted. The new church needed its own version of the "Book of Common Prayer" to eliminate any form of allegiance to the monarch of England who is the official head of The Church of England. The Episcopal Church has thoughtfully evolved since that time. Growing in the number of dioceses as the nation grew, each diocese overseen by a bishop, many dioceses found the need to split from large geographical areas into smaller ones as the church grew in membership and new churches were founded.
In 1826-1827, the town of Hulmeville, some six miles from St. James in Bristol, engaged Eliza Randal to teach a private school for several principal families in Hulmeville and the vicinity. It was said that she was an "earnest, devoted and energetic" member of St. James Episcopal Church School in Bristol, which was part of the American Sunday School Union. In the 19th century "Sunday School" was one of the primary structures available to provide a basic education for children, especially those who worked during the week.
About this time (1828-1830), The Rev. Richard Hall, Rector of St. James the Greater, began to hold services in the School House in Hulmeville after Sunday School. In the summer seats were arranged in the grove known as the "Sunday School Woods." The Rev. Hall was known as an excellent preacher. He was earnest and popular and the services drew large numbers of worshippers. He gathered in many members from the Hulmeville area who technically became Communicants of the Bristol church.
Around 1830 G.W. Ridgely became Rector of St. James the Greater and continued to increase the popularity of services not only in Hulmeville but also in Bristol to the point that it seemed necessary to increase the size of the Bristol church. The Reverend Ridgley, filled with missionary spirit, suggested that the matter of enlarging St. James Church be abandoned and a church building be provided for the people of Hulmeville.
A lot valued at $400 was purchased. The building was erected in 1831 at a cost of about $800 which was the amount of the initial subscriptions. All building ceased when the money ran out. At that point there was no pulpit and no pews. Seats consisted of unplaned boards supported by empty kegs.
The fact that there were no pews was actually somewhat of a blessing as there was a cholera epidemic in the summer of 1832 and the open space of the church nave was the perfect space for a temporary hospital. In 1833 box pews and a highly elevated pulpit were installed.
Rev. Ridgely also established a Mission at Newtown which became St. Luke's, one at Yardley which became St. Andrews, and another at Centreville, which became Trinity. By 1837 Rev. Ridgley thought that the mission at Hulmeville should be separated from its parent church, St. James, and to obtain full congregational status. An organization was formed, a Warden and Vestrymen chosen. A Charter of Incorporation was obtained from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the church was formally admitted into the Diocese of Pennsylvania at the Diocesan Annual Convention held in Philadelphia in May of 1837.
The first Rector of Grace was the Rev. George Kirk who began his duties May 28, 1837. He resided in Yardley and was also in charge of St. Andrew's. The name "Grace Church" was given because Mrs. Elizabeth Kelley of Grace Church, Philadelphia, had given considerable aid to the work.
In 1952, in order to expand the church grounds for any future use, the vestry took advantage of an opportunity to purchase one acre directly behind the church for $2,000. In 1958 work was completed in digging out a basement under the church building for more classroom space.
By early 1964 serious discussions were instituted for attaining full "Parish Status" meaning that financial support from the diocese would be discontinued and the status of a "Mission Church" would be fully dropped. After 133 years as an aided parish, Grace attained self sustained status at the Convention of the Diocese of Pennsylvania in May of 1964.
Since the initial building of the church the pulpit has been brought down, new pews and modern amenities installed, newer organs played, and extensions to the building constructed, including a new kitchen in the early 1960s. Improvements continue to be made to the building and grounds to this day: repaving, repainting, carpeting, and keeping up with new building code requirements. Much pride and effort is taken in the upkeep and improvement of God's house of worship known as "Grace."
Since Rev. Ridgley's time, there have been a total of 40 rectors of Grace Church as of 2010. Grace continues to strive to live out its mission as a people of God known in Christ, loving neighbor as self, opening its doors with a welcome to God's beloved wherever they are on their life's journey. There is much abundance of life that God continues to offer. The people of Grace strive to be faithful to God's call of radical faithfulness, hospitality and service both today and, hopefully with God's help, in the days and years to come.