An Historical Perspective of Grace Church

 In the 180 year old Grace Church minute book, we read that a group of people met on August 12, 1844 to organize and build an Episcopal Church.  Eight days later, at a second gathering: Thomas Lawrence was called to the chair, Henry Hone was appointed secretary, Elbert Floyd-Jones was elected Collector of Funds for the new church and James Meinell was made Treasurer of the "subscription monies."

General Thomas Floyd-Jones donated the land. To this day, the legal title of this parish reads as follows: "The Rector, Churchwardens and Vestrymen of Grace Church, South Oysterbay."

In September of 1844 plans were approved to erect the first church building.  It was only 24 feet wide, 36 feet long, 16 feet ceilings and a brick foundation. The first annual meeting was held on March 25, 1845; the annual meetings for over 100 years being held the Tuesday after Easter.

The first Rector to be "called" was William A. Curtis at a salary of $300.00 a year. Grace Church was closed from Christmas to Easter of each year, as the handful of people who attended services went to New York or elsewhere during that time. 

On July 9, 1846 the church was first used for services, but, due to illness of the Bishop of New York (we were part of Queens County in those days and also part of the Diocese of New York) the building was not consecrated until April 13, 1847. The clergy from Jamaica, Hempstead, Islip, Patchogue and Huntington were present.

The first baptisms in the Parish were on July 1, 1848 - Muney and Sarah Elizabeth, the children of Henry and Henrietta Purdy. Helen and Catharine Floyd-Jones were the first confirmation candidates and the first marriage ceremony recorded was a wedding at the home of Tredwell Carman.

In 1880, a Christmas gift of seven acres of land for a parsonage was given by John D. Jones in memory of his wife. Most of this land is still owned by the parish. What we call the Floyd-Jones House was built and placed where the new church now stands; the building was moved to its present location in the summer of 1957. The small building next to the old church was built a couple of years later. This building is called Wiley Hall in honor of Dr. William Wiley whose Rectorship lasted longer than anyone's, from 1890 until 1926. His remains lie in the Church graveyard.

Grace Church was enlarged in 1905 and some of the Tiffany windows were installed. The congregation itself grew steadily larger and expanded under the Rectorships of William Wiley, Edgar Brice, Edward Rogers and Edward J. Bubb.

In 1948, the Reverend John Malcolm Haight was called to be rector and, under his vision and guidance, the present church was built and the Day School formed. A Rectory was built in the summer of 1949; additional rooms were built in 1963. In 1952 a $120,000 Parish House was built and has been in constant use ever since.

Construction of the existing church began in 1959 and the congregation moved into the new building in September 1960. Rev. Haight was succeeded by the Reverend John X. Jobson in 1974.  Under the direction of Father Jobson, the old Grace Church was given to the Historical Society of the Massapequas, the north chapel (St. Christopher's) was sold to the Carpathian Orthodox Church, and the present church was substantially renovated, incorporating the Tiffany stained glass windows from the old church.

Father Jobson was succeeded by the Reverend Douglas Hutchings, as interim priest, in 1997.  Father Hutchings empowered the laity, and was effective in transitioning the parish toward a new rector, the Reverend Sara Louise Krantz. Mother Krantz served as rector from 1999 to 2007, and was instrumental in developing and enhancing diverse parish outreach programs.

In November 2009, The Rev. Joshua D. Walters was welcomed as the 11th Rector of Grace Church. He provided inspiring leadership and direction for the parish.  The congregation grew by more than a third, and young families were drawn to the Church and the Day School.  Community outreach increased as did Church attendance.  He attracted a loyal following of parish volunteers all working to improve not only Grace Church. but the greater Massapequa community.  In 2012 he answered the call of a regional Church with more than 1,000 members in the suburbs of Rochester, NY. 

Grace Church was left on solid footing with outstanding Wardens, an enthusiastic Vestry and  energized parishioners ready to keep the Church growing into the next decade. 

The Wardens and Vestry began working with the Diocese and the search began for a new Priest-in-Charge.

In September 2012, The Very Rev. Canon John P. McGinty, PhD, Canon for Formation and Dean of The Mercer School, was assigned by Bishop Provenzano, as celebrating priest.  A church scholar, his sermons were considered among best ever preached at Grace. He filled an important void while the search for a new spiritual leader began.

In January 2013, The Rev. Dr. Charles R. Colwell became the Interim Rector at Grace Church.  The Rev. Colwell officiated at Sunday Services,  provided pastoral care for the Parish and support for the Grace Day School until a Priest in Charge was selected.  Fr. Charlie with an infectious smile and easy manner, brought a life-time of experiences as an Episcopal Rector to the congregation.

Bishop Lawrence Provenzano and The Rev. Canon John D. Betit played important roles in the search for a Priest-in-Charge.  Their leadership and support was key to helping the Vestry screen qualified candidates.

In March, 2013, the Wardens and Vestry of Grace Church  announced the appointment of The Reverend Walter V. Hillebrand as the new Priest-in -Charge.  Fr. Walter, originally from Italy, possesses vast professional experiences and skills in Parish Ministry, Pastoral Care and Counseling. In addition, Fr. Walter has an extensive background in Business Administration and General Management.  He began his ministry in May, 2013 and the entire parish was looking forward to a new era for Grace Church.

After discussion and prayerful consideration, the Wardens and Vestry unanimously elected The Rev. Dr. Walter V. Hillebrand as the 12th Rector of Grace Church effective September 1, 2014.  His outstanding work as the spiritual leader of Grace as priest-in-charge, coupled with his management skills insured his election.  

Fr. Walter's election was wholeheartedly supported by Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, who officiated at his institution on November 1, 2014.

New actions by Fr. Walter have included an invigorated Church Music program  with Sunday afternoon concerts , an expanded pastoral care team, new childcare opportunities in Grace Above and Beyond, an outdoor electronic sign, indoor video bulletin board, a closed circuit television system to enrich and enhance Sunday services, and an annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Christmas market which attracts more than 600 people from throughout the greater Massapequa community.

In August, 2015, increasing costs, changing demographics and a dramatic decrease in Day School enrollment caused the Vestry with a very heavy heart to eliminate Day School grades 1-8. 

The  Grace Early Childhood Center was expanded and in 2018 added a NYS Certified Child Care Facility all operating at near full capacity and is financially strong. The Center offers foreign language instruction, art, music, computer training, athletic field, outdoor playgrounds,  and indoor gym.    Classes are from 2 year-olds, to Nursery, Pre-K  and a special Childcare facility for infants 6 weeks to 18 months. 

Grace launched in 2015 a new ministry directed at senior citizens and families in the Town of Oyster Bay Housing Complex located in East Massapequa.  Due to age and/or their individual economic situation there are many residing in this complex needing assistance on occasion with food related issues. We expanded our food collection and distribution efforts to provide food and meals to these impacted senior citizens and families in need. Bi- monthly, Church volunteers prepared and serve a complete Sunday afternoon dinner to seniors and families at their community room within the housing complex.

The Parish is coming together under the guidance of our Rector, the Rev. Dr. Walter V. Hillebrand to pursue new ministries focusing on the community's needs including programs for senior citizens and young people.

In October 2016, the Grace Young at Heart senior club was formed to provide programming and nutrition to seniors from the greater Massapequa area. Servicing a monthly free luncheon along with entertainment or programs once a month for more than 70 seniors, YAH was recognized by the Town of Oyster Bay and the Nassau County Legislature for providing its 1,000 meal to local citizens.

In the summer of 2018, the Church completed a much need project funded by the proceeds of the Grace Thrift Shop, a new restroom on the first floor of the Church just off the Narthex. This long sought after improvement was made possible by the efforts of the ladies of the Thrifty Boutique. 

In April 2018, Grace Church dedicated a new Carillion Bell system to return Grace's "voice" in the community.  The system was a gift from the Bryson Family and their friends.  It can be heard at 12:00 noon and 6:00 pm daily and on Sunday mornings striking the hour and playing a hymn.

By September 2018, the Grace Early Childhood Center was flourishing operating 50 weeks a year from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm five days a week. A highly trained staff lead by skilled early childhood experienced professionals has created the premier Early Childhood Center on the South Shore serving more than 160  children for infant care, two's club,  nursery school and pre-K.    

Also in September 2018, through the grant assistance of the  LI Episcopal Diocese, Grace debuted its new technology system which places closed circuit video cameras and televisions within the Church to enhance the service and improve viewing for the parishioners during particular services such as baptisms.

2017-18 was a difficult years for the Church and its buildings with hurricane winds and winter storms battering the campus causing damage to both the roof of the Church and Rectory.  After engineering surveys, the Wardens and Vestry petitioned the Church's insurance company for assistance  in making the necessary repairs.  The result of the claim was insurance funding for the installation of a new roof on both buildings. In addition, the Church interior was painted in January 2019 and repairs and painting were completed at the Rectory.  During the several week process, services were held in the Parish Hall.

On May 1, 2019, our Rector, The Rev. Dr. Walter V. Hillebrand began a three month sabbatical as required by the Episcopal Diocese. This was a time for study, reflection and renewal. He returned in July with new vigor and with plans for the future of Grace. During his absence supply priests held Sunday services and provided for the needs of the congregation.

2019 marked the 175th Anniversary of Grace Church receiving its Certificate of Incorporation from New York State on August 12, 1844.  This milestone was celebrated with various events throughout the year.  A committee of parishioners  worked for more than 12 months planning the calendar.  It included various observances and a dinner dance welcoming the entire Massapequa community.

In September, 2019 Fr. Walter was appointed Dean of the South East Nassau Episcopal Deanery by Bishop Larry Provenzano of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. The Very Rev. Dr. Walter V. Hillebrand was charged with coordinating the efforts of the seven churches in the Deanery.  

The Christian Education Program for young people was revised in September 2019 with the introduction of the new Godly Play curriculum  which focuses on storytellers presenting stories from the Bible followed by learning and thinking activities. In addition the hours of Christian Ed. were changed to allow parents to attend church and the children to be present for communion.  The changes have been greeted with enthusiasm by both the children and their parents with 38 pupils enrolled. 

In March 2020 the Corvid 19 pandemic struck Long Island and the nation forcing the closing of government, businesses, schools and churches to stop the spread. People were forced to work from home changing the dynamics of the family unit. The Church building was closed, the Day School was closed and staff and teachers were terminated because there were no funds to support their salaries.  The entire campus was closed for six months.   

Overnight the Grace Church Technology Unit, headed by Fr. Walter mobilized to help produce virtual Sunday worship.  First from the Rectory on Zoom and then starting in September 2020 a live stream from the Church, a modified virtual Sunday Worship Service was presented to include a coffee hour and The Adult Forum and Christian Education classes. Entitled "Sundays at Grace" the message of faith and hope was broadcast every week. 

Church was opened from the middle of September to the beginning of December with strict Covid 19 rules in place including limited attendance. The Vestry voted to install an Ultra-Vilate air purification system to kill gems and viruses to the Church HVAC system to protect parishioners attending the services and church activities. The Day School Early Childhood Center was opened in September with more than 130 children to meet the community's need for child services as many residents started to returned to work. It is still operating under very strict Covid regulations which limits contacts between classes and grades to prevent the spread of any viruses that could impact the children.  As the numbers increased after the Thanksgiving holiday,the introduction of various virus variants into the state, caused the Church building to close in early December to in person worship services. Live stream services continued to be broadcast including an elaborate Christmas Mass production.

Fund raising activities were thwarted by the pandemic, but the innovative organizers of the Harvest Fair created the Non-Affair Harvest Fair seeking donations at various levels prividing gifts as the cash amounts increased.  A huge success the event raised as much as the real Fair itself.

Grace reopened after Easter 2021 for in person services with masks being warn and parts of the service presented on video.  But at least we were together under one roof worshiping as a faith community. While Church attendance was  small, online viewership, live and throughout Sunday and Monday, jumped to more than 125 families.  We were now reaching out to a new community on the Web to hear our message and view our services.

Homecoming in Sept 2021 was a well attended event enjoying the Grace Coffee House  outdoors on the Church terrace with picnic tables and maroon umbrellas. Starting in July, the outdoor Coffee House helped to bring us back to the new normal  helping to increase Church participation at the in-person service. In addition, the Vestry voted to install a power chair-lift which now provides access to the Under Croft and the Grace Coffee House for those who have trouble climbing the stairs.

The Early Childhood Center was thriving with more than 180 children maintaining a high level of care and education.  The 16th Annual Harvest Fair was held with changes to meet NYS Covid rules and guidelines. Beautiful weather and a joyous crowd made it a measured success.

October saw the appointment of Dr. Leonard Lehrman as Music Director/Organist/Composer-in-Residence signaling the addition of  live music and our beloved Choir to our services. The Doctor left us to April to follow other pursuits. Masses at 8:00 and 10:00 were reinstated as well as in person Christian Ed. for the children and the Adult Forum in person and on Zoom.

Our traditional Christmas Concert and Tree Lighting Ceremony returned with more than 600 parishioners and Day School children and parents in attendence. Christmass services saw increased attendence in church and on the live-feeds.

The new year 2022, began with hope that the pandemic would be over, but it only brought renewed concerns and adjustments in Covid protocals with the mask advisery still enforced.. Lenten programs and In person Holy Week services were reinstated as the Parish  began returning to the "new normal." The choir also returned, but wearing masks for their own protection.

Plans moved forward on two major Church projects, the expansion of the Grace Cemetery to Church property located between the Church building and Merrick Road and the repurposing and increased accessability of the Undercroft.. These were the first upgrades in this part of the Church since the it was built in 1959/60.

Reflecting a return to normal Parish operations were plans for a  full blown Harvest Fair in the Fall. The Fair was a huge success earning a net of over $23,000 and the smiles and laughter of hundreds of children and parents. The Early Childhood Center, regarded as the premier child care facility on the South Shore, began the new school year with more than 200 students and a staff of 45. Joining our Church staff was Deacon Robert White who with his wife and family now resides in the Floyd-Jones house on campus.  Deacon Bob coordinates our pastoral care program and assisst Fr. Walter in Sunday services.

Construction began in September on the Undercroft improvements including a new Chapel, Family/Zoom room. and restrooms that are handicapped accessable. Work is expected to be completed in February 2023.  The final segment, a new entrance ramp to make the entire Undercroft accessable will begin in the Spring of 2023.

The Annual Tree Lighting  Ceremony attracted more than 840 parents and parishioners with more than 100 children singing traditional carols and being treated to cookies and hot choclate. The Christmas Eve  Family Service, featuring our Christain Ed students, drew over 200 parishioners and children who braved the 5 degree temperatures.  The serious cold snap impacted Church attendence on both Christmas and Christmas Eve, but increased our on line viewership.

2022 saw a boost in our Christian Ed Program with 44 students enrolled and more that 30 plus attending every Sunday.  The numbers reflect the hard work of the coordinator Camille Olsen and assistant coordinator Carol Ann  Brancato and the success of the Godly Play format introduced in 2019. In addition the Church's Young at Heart senior program was revived in November welcoming seniors from the greater Massapequa area.

The year also saw the further integration of the Grace Production audiovisuals, enrichments and live-streaming of Sunday services, holiday programs and even funerals on the World-wide Web,   The Unit was also key in the planning and installations in the new Undercroft for live-stream, Zoom and Church network operations.

2023 – Christian Ed enrollment soared to more than fifty children while the confirmation class (two year program) was at five. Church attendance continued to grow as more people returned after the Covid pandemic.

Phase one of the construction in the Undercroft was completed in February/March on schedule which saw the new restrooms, family room and a beautiful chapel.  The family room is being used for meetings of the Adult Forum on Sunday mornings both in person and on Zoom, while the Chapel is being used for Fr. Walter’s Lenten programs and for prayer and meditation.  

Christian Ed presented the story of Palm Sunday as well as being the readers of the Passion  at Sunday Services. The tradition of evening Lenten programs continued with fine attendance. The choir, led by Stephanie Steiner, has been at the top of their game providing wonderful inspirational music throughout Holy Week. Kudos were also given to the unsung members of the Altar Guild who have performed so well through Covid and throughout the rebuilding process of the past two years.  Volunteers are still the backbone of the church’s operations and success.

Coordinanted by Richard and Debi Csajko, Church and school families, aided by local community members, collected food twice a year (Lent and Advent) to help those in need. At our 2022  Advent Food Drive we collected 2004 pounds of food and toiletries which equates to 1670 meals for those with food insecurity.   The food that we donated to Island Harvest was distributed to food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers and shelters across the Island.  This new tradition now in its third year has become part of Grace's"Inspired by Grace"  outreach programs.

On May 2st The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin, Assisting Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island visited Grace Church and blessed and dedicated the newly completed Grace Chapel located in the Undercroft. In addition he presented Warden Ken Cynar with the Bishop's Medal in recognition of his years of service to Grace Church and the Diocese.

July 3rd saw the start of the  reconstruction of the Church/School parking lot  with additional dry wells, a new base and black topping, traffic control striping,several added walkways along with Belgian Block edging..  The change in the appearece of the campus  is dramatic. With proper maintenance the work should last more than 20 years. In August work began on the ramp that will provide improved access to the Narthex specifically the new Chapel and our Coffee House. The zig zag design required because of the ten foot drop from the parking lot is wide enough to permit passage of a coffin for wakes and services and is heated to prevent iceing in winter and well lite for use during evening ours.

With the improvements to the physical campus, new programs were laumched in mid-September including Wednesday, Morning Prayer in the Chapel with Deacon Bob White; expanded hours for the Coffee House -  9:00am til noon to act as a meeting place for parishioners, Day School parents and caregivers; and a Wednesday, evening meal for parishioners followed by prayers and Christian meditation in the Chapel with Fr. Walter. In addition a new recreation/camp program began on Saturday's in September from 9:00-12:00 in the Undercroft for pasishioners' children. The Chapel has been well-used and has become the focus of Christian Meditation in the Church led by Fr. Walter.

On October 29th the congregation celebrated Fr. Walter's 10th anniversary as spiritual leader of Grace Church with a special cake, a gift cefrtificate and a serenity tree, symbolic of the one to be planted as part of the planned beautification program following the building of the `new church entrance ramp into the Undercroft. In an important recognition ceremony, the members of the Altar Guild were honored for their devotion and hard work of preparing and maintaining the Church's sacred space for all types of services. The following week saw a special "All Saints Day" celebration that also welcomed Quincy Dover as our new director of music ministry. Quincy is a very talented organist and choir master who is expected to bring new energy to our music program.

In early December, more than 800 people gathered to hear the Grace Choir and the children of the Early Childhood Center sing Christmas Carols and light our Christmas Tree in what has become an annual event. Santa, hot chcolate, treats and the a mini-Christmas Market were all part of the day's activities. A new program for our Christian Education children, "Breakfast with Santa,"  was held in the Coffee House much to the delight of the children and parents.  The morning was capped off by a ride with Santa on the "Polar Express" train built by parishioner Richard Csajko. The Advent Food drive concluded with excellent participation from the parhishioners, Early Childhhod parents and community members.  The Christmas Eve Family Service and Christmas Day Mass saw over 300 people in attendence. The choir under the direction of our new director of music ministry was outsatnding.

2024 started slowly, with everyone catching their breath after a busy Christmas.  Church Programs returned and  plans began for the 2024 Lenten season.  The railing has been installed for the new ramp access to the Undercroft along with the new entranceways. We are all awaiting the completion of the door installations which have been hampered by extremely cold weather with windchills in the single digits.

1/18/2024 - kcynar