Renewed Energy, 1922-1952
Following the tenure of Lee, Grace Church spent the next 40 years dependent on Bruton Parish and the diocese for its clergy. These "priests-in-charge" functioned as rectors but were not funded entirely by the parish. Even with small means, however, the parish regularly contributed to local and national outreach causes, including helping to fund a missionary chapel in Newport News, Emmanuel Morrison, from 1922 to 1932.
Restoration efforts in the 1920's saw the addition of the reredos, altar rail, raised chancel and altar, coal stove, dentil molding, raised wall paneling, and wrought iron colonial-style chandeliers, windows, a new belfry, front door, and steps. Originally the chandeliers were filled with candles — the first electric bill, for $1.50, was paid in March 1934.
The Rev. C.A. Pruden, priest-in-charge of Grace Church from December 1933 to September 1936, led the way in many changes to the church. A retired Army colonel, he cajoled, threatened and brow-beat the vestry and the ladies' guild into modernizing the building, including electrification, furnishings, and accoutrements of worship, many of which are still in use today. At the same time, he persuaded the vestry to change the official name of the church to "Colonial Grace Episcopal Church" (which name change lasted until 1945). Along with his wife, Pruden gave tours to visitors to promote awareness of the church as part of our national heritage. In less than three years, he registered 18,151 visitors, who donated a total of $2,369.49 through a donation box. The average donation box income from visitors during the 1930's was around $670.
Pruden's ambivalence toward his strong lay leaders appeared in his 1935 annual report to the diocese: "The Vestry is composed of very estimable gentlemen, affable and kindly...they are leaders in their respective fields, accustomed to dictate the policies of their own enterprises...Therefore it is rather difficult for them to accept the leadership of another. Especially as this congregation has been without a resident rector for more than 100 years and the Vestry has been compelled to assume entire direction of the affairs of the Church."
A bulletin cover from 1947 features a drawing by Clyde Trudell made in 1936, which shows some of the additions and improvements made during the early part of the 20th century. A "colonial" facade added circa 1925: new cupola, rose wondow, door frame, and semi-circular steps. The recreated colonial brick wall was added in 1931. In 1936, a bronze tablet was placed on the front of the church summarizing its history. In the 1940's a massive effort was made to restore the church to its appearance in colonial times. Archaeological exploration was also undertaken, leaving the chuch with a valuable record of its former character, even though no restoration resulted.
Interior improvements included kneelers and bookracks; a walnut credence table and bracekts added to the walls; a retable, brass cross and vases added behand the altar; and a brass ewer and walnut cover for the new baptismal font, which was donated in 1901 by the ladies of Zion and St. Timothy in New York.
In 1951, an addition was constructed at the east end of the church. This addition replaced a smaller 19th century addition that was used as a vesting room and sacristry. It was originally used as a parish house. Sunday School classes for children were taught there. Ann Elksnin remembers that the class spaces were divided with a maroon shower curtain. "We had folding chairs lined up on each side of the curtain and part the of boys' entertainment was poking...someone on the other side.
Vestry minutes from February 1946 record that Mrs. Willits Bowditch and others proposed "beginning" a Sunday School, but there are records of Christain education programs at Grace Church since the late 19th century, even though, in those days, there were sometimes only 8-10 total scholars and teachers. Wythe Davis recounts that he attended Sunday School at Grace faithfully, beginning in 1935 when he was four years old. He says, "Until I was 14 years old, I never missed a Sunday of church attendance...I still have among my treasured relics a chestful of attendance pins, with attachments, that...would rival a Russian general's...medals."
TimeLine of Significant Events
- 1922 - Annual salary of Grace Church part-time rector is $250
- 1926 - Services are being held weekly at Grace Church
- 1927 - church closed January through October for extensive repairs and remodeling
- circa 1927 - Church is wired for electricity, but no fixtures installed
- 1928 - From annual report: 15 families, 36 communicants, total revenue of $399.44
- 1939 - World War II begins
- 1942 - From annual report: 19 families, 58 communicants, 50 students in Sunday School, revenue of $1225.22, donation to diocese of $118, property valued of $22,000
- 1947 - Archaeological exploration of church and grounds
- 1948 - House at 108 Church Street purchased as a rectory
- 1951 - First parish hall added, attached to east end of church