Grace Church began as a mission of St. Peters Church, Morristown. The mission period (1850-1854) saw the establishment of regular services, choir, church school, confirmation instruction, evening lectures, etc. From its beginnings the church has had a strong tradition of incorporating music into the liturgy. Even before it became an independent parish in 1854, the congregation had a choir and sung services on a regular basis.
Following its incorporation as an independent parish in 1854, the parish established itself during the next 30 years to be financially and demographically stable. The building was consecrated by Bishop Doane on May 18th, 1857. There were difficulties during these early years, most notably the rapid turnover of rectors – seven in twenty-eight years. Fortunately, this situation was counterbalanced by the fact that the wardens and vestry remained in office for many years, providing continuity and stability. The parish was small but active, with approximately 30-40 families and, for the time, was quite heterogeneous racially, socially, and economically.
Encouraged by the railroad, which put New York City within commuting distance, more than ninety millionaire families moved into the Morristown-Madison area in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Many of these people were Episcopalians and they had a decisive impact on parish life, both positively and negatively. They were certainly extremely generous, and additions and improvements to the buildings would have been impossible without their donations. The generosity of these families, however, alleviated the need to broaden the congregation’s financial base with additional membership. There may have even been some alienation on the part of other members or potential members; consequently, even though the financial picture was strong, the parish was somewhat exclusive and inward looking during this period which lasted until 1945.
The post-World War II years brought major change to the parish. This was an era of suburban expansion. After two generations, the members and influence of the wealthy families declined, and the loss of their financial contributions and membership forced the parish to seek new members and broaden its financial base. This was helped by the post-war rise in population and economic prosperity. Many people, especially young couples just starting families, moved to suburbs like Madison, and Grace Church’s membership increased rapidly. One lasting result of this growth was the major expansion of the church building in the 1950s. The congregation has only continued to grow since, reaching our current membership of 856 individuals.
Our recent history (since 1980) has had several notable achievements. The parish established a memorial garden and columbarium and founded Grace Counseling Center, a successful counseling center serving the community. Successful capital campaigns financed a new kitchen (1995), the addition of a new parish hall (2009), and the ongoing work of maintaining and normal upgrades to our buildings and grounds.
Today, Grace Church holds a place of prominence on the western end of downtown Madison. A neighboring school is being replaced by several modern structures which will include 100 apartments, 30 condominiums, retail space, and a community center. Grace is preparing itself to be a good neighbor to these new residents, and to the changing face of the landlocked town, welcoming all. Great liturgy and outreach ministries continue to be at the heart of Grace’s ministries. Grace hosts a town polling place, many community and arts’ events, and itself offers an exceptionally robust music program.
History of Grace Church 1854-1984
by Suzanne B. Geissler, Madison, New Jersey – 1987
Suzanne B. Geissler (now Dr. Suzanne Bowles) researched and wrote the history of Grace Church in 1987.