A History of Grace Church in Newark


Grace Church in Newark was founded in 1837 to be the standard-bearer for Anglican Catholicism in The Episcopal Church in northern New Jersey. Our Gothic Revival church building, designed by Richard Upjohn and erected in 1848, is a Registered National Landmark. Having a long history of fine music, the first prominent organist was Samuel Augustus Ward, who wrote the famous melody for “America the Beautiful.” The following history is comprised of selections from the resources listed below.

The Beginning

“There were twenty [African-American] slaves in Newark when Grace Church was organized on Whitsunday, May 14, 1837. There were no paved streets. Broad Street was described as a “mudhole.” There were no public schools. Streets were lighted with coal oil lamps. Newark had been a city only a year. The Anglican Church in the colonies had been nearly destroyed in the Revolutionary War and in Newark its members had been grievously persecuted. Many of them left the village never to return. The scars had barely healed by 1837. “Andrew Jackson had been succeeded only two months before by Martin Van Buren as President of the United States. James Madison had been dead less than a year. Abraham Lincoln had just been elected to the Illinois Legislature. “The nation was fast declining into its most terrible economic depression. Three years before John Keble had preched his sermon on ‘National Apostasy’ in St. Mary’s Church, Oxford, launching a spiritual revival which was to shake the English Church to its foundations, to have far-reaching effects in America, to make Grace one of the first Anglican Catholic parishes in New Jersey. “A revolutionary epoch, the age of machinery, invention and mass production was dawning. It was to bring within a single century more far-reaching changes in the life and mind of [humankind] than had occurred since the beginning of the Christian era…. It as to affect deeply the history of Grace Church” (Bataille, 1). “The depression of 1837 was far behind in July 1846 when the Rev. John Lee Watson became rector of Grace Church. The tide had turned in 1843 and each succeeding month brought renewed evidence that Newark was regaining its economic vigor. In 1846 appeared indications of the era of prosperity which was to reach full strength in 1849. Improved conditions in Newark were reflected in the affairs of Grace Church…” (32). “Grace Church occupies the home lot assigned to Thomas Johnson, one of the New Haven group of Newark settlers. He was the town’s first constable and to him was entrusted the operation of the first tavern and inn. The tavern was established in his home, which stood on the present church grounds…. Part of Grace Church stands on foundations of the old Court House and in these foundations is stone removed from the old Newark Meeting House, the second home of the First Presbyterian Church, which was erected in 1708. Still there are the dungeons where prisoners were confined. Years ago choir boys used the cells for weird initiatory rites and men still living can remember playing in those gloomy vaults. The vestry voted the situation a nuisance and unable to correct it by admonition sealed up the cells. It is still possible to stumble through a network of plumbing down the shallow, dirt-covered main corridor off which once opened the barred entrances of the cells” (36).

The Architecture

“Richard Upjohn, founder of America’s most distinguished architectural dynasty, was selected to design the new church. He had just complete Trinity Church [Wall Street], New York, and he drew the plans for the Church of the Ascension, the Church of the Holy Communion, Trinity Chapel, St. Thomas’s and others in Manhattan; St. Paul’s, Buffalo, and the Church of the Pilgrims and Grace Church in Brooklyn. “He completed his plans for Grace Church, Newark, in April, 1847. They called for an Early English Gothic edifice of brown freestone, with an interior characterized by massive lumbering in the roof and heavy black walnut wainscoting. “The cornerstone was laid May 17, 1847. Into it was placed a copy of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, transcripts of records, list of subscribers and a copy of the Daily Advertiser of that day” (41). At the laying of the cornerstone, Bishop Doane said: “You have, indeed a noble opportunity. A location, unrivalled for beauty and convenience. A plan, worthy of our sacred architecture in its best and brightest days. A city, growing up about you with a rapidity that baffles calculation; and to grow in wealth, and power, and influence, with men, in a proportion even greater than its population (42). At the consecration, he said: “So, from this lower temple you shall go, saved through the purchase of the Cross to the high mountain of God’s holiness. So shall this glorious sanctuary which opens first today its peaceful gates, lead up your children and your children’s children, to their Father’s blissful home. So shall this House of God, made His today, in all the consecrated beauty of its holiness, be, for unnumbered numbers but the vestibule to that not made with hands which is eternal in the heavens” (46).

The Oxford Movement

“Grace Church was founded by men who had been profoundly affected by the Oxford Movement, which brought a revival of Catholic life, faith and practice, first to the Church of England and then throughout the Anglican communion. The movement has been continuous from its beginning in 1833 and has been responsible for revitalizing the life of the churches within the Anglican communion and reviving the primitive Church of the Martyrs of the early centuries” (49). “The Oxford Movement was not primarily a revival of ceremonial. This resulted naturally but at a later time. The movement centered around the great theological doctrine that the Church of England is a true historical branch of the one Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. From that fundamental tenet proceeded all the teaching as to Catholic faith and practice, the continuous apostolic ministry, unbroken at the Reformation; the Catholic Creeds, always an integral part of the formulae of the Church of England, the sacraments as the divine means of grace. “Among the laymen who participated in the organization of Grace Church were those who had been convinced of the truth of Catholic teaching by the Oxford Movement and their faith was intensified by the coming of Dr. Chapman, who established daily services in the church from the beginning, an almost unheard of thing in America in those days” (50). “To the general welfare of Newark Grace Church made no more important contribution than the part its members played in the organization of St. Barnabas’ Hospital. In 1864 Mrs. Jerome Ward, a communicant of Christ Church and Miss Henrietta Jacobs of Grace Church became interested in an indigent member of Grace parish, a Mrs. Titus, an elderly women ill with tuberculosis…. They named their hospital for St. Barnabas” (63).

Father George Martin Christian

“Grace had been moving with the strong tide which set in with the Oxford Movement of 1833. From its organization it had been High Church. But not until the coming of George Martin Christian [in 1879] did it become truly a Catholic Church” (79). “While he worked his changes gradually, Dr. Christian lost no time beginning to preach the Sacrament of Penance more definitely than ever before in the history of the Episcopal Church…. He was a most convincing preacher and teacher, compelling and emotional. With an adroit combination of tact and candor he led his congregation forward step by step into the fullness of Catholic practice and ceremonial…. Dr. Christian introduced colored silk vestments. The Holy Eucharist had been celebrated regularly in the parish from its very beginning.  He made it not only the chief service of every Sunday, but the center of the devotional life of the parish. He introduced the daily Mass, preparing the way for it and stimulating a desire for it by his teaching…. He celebrated Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, using a chalice as a monstrance” (81-2). “Dr. Christian became nationally known when he defended the Nicene Creed at the centennial General Convention in St. George’s Church, New York, in 1889. On October 5 the revision of the Prayer Book came before the convention [with the proviso that ‘...the Creed may be omitted…’]. Dr. Christian stated: ‘We have no more right to cut out the Nicene Creed than we have to mutilate the Apostles’ Creed and make no explanation….” (82). Dr. Christian became the rector of Church of St. Mary the Virgin upon leaving Grace Church. “Samuel August Ward was the best known organist in the history of the parish. In 1882 he composed a setting for the hymn: ‘O Mother dear Jerusalem.’ this hymn tune called ‘Materna’ immediately became popular in the parish and was used at first in manuscript before it appeared in the Church hymnal. At a later date this music was used for Katherine Lee Bates’ patriotic poem, ‘America the Beautiful’” (112).

Father Charles Gomph

The Rev. Charles L. Gomph was rector of Grace Church from 1913 to 1952. He was a strong leader through the tumultuous years  of World War I, leading in the renovating of the church and building the current Parish House, as well as   the threat of the church’s property being taken for a newly proposed main Post Office, and the establishment of the church’s endowment (95-107). In 1945 Ralph Adams Cram was engaged to construct an Altar of the Blessed Sacrament in the south transept “constructed of wood and decorated with gold leaf and polychrome, and surmounted by a cylindrical tabernacle of wood, are the five handsomely carved medallions: The two on the left are Old Testament precursors of the Sacrament: manna in the wilderness, and water from the rock. The other three medallions represent the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection” (Allen, 9). As well as his emphasis on maintaining the stability of the church, Father Gomph was concerned for the church’s mission: “Grace Church has a missionary work to do in this community in the future as in the past, and should never be allowed to degenerate into a little group of satisfied ‘Catholics’ engrossed in their own affiars; the rector, therefore, should be a man with strong missionary interest and conviction; the particular type of missionary work here will probably be increasingly work among the poor, the underprivileged, the down and out elements in the community….” (16). Father

Herbert S. Brown

Upon the retirement of Father Gomph, the vestry called Father Herbert Brown as its next rector in 1950, who served until 1970. “After about two years as Rector, Father Brown set about to institute certain liturgical enrichments which in time led to the Solemn High Mass as the standard form of worship ... on Sunday mornings” (17). Father Brown hired as curate George Bowen, who would later become rector, and James McGregor, who would be organist-choirmaster for nearly 50 years. “Under Father Brown’s wise direction the parish has continued and enriched its devotional traditions, ever mindful that it has a dual responsibility, first, to hold forth a high standard of Churchmanship for people from a broad metropolitan area, and then second, to fulfill a special responsibility to the people of its immediate neighborhood” (26). “Although change is constant, it sometimes proceeds so slowly that it is scarcely perceptible, and at other times it proceeds at lightning speed. During the 1960s the pace of change accelerated almost everywhere, and not least at Grace Church in Newark. In addition to the general social and political developments that were affecting society at large, two specific events profoundly affected Grace Church: the violent civil disorders that erupted in Newark during the summer of 1967 and the Second Vatican Council…. The riots brought about a more equitable balance of power in the city, but they also made most residents of outlying suburbs afraid to come into Newark….” The Second Vatican Council influenced not only the Roman Church, but those outside the domain of Rome as well, emphasizing, for example, the “fully conscious and active participation” of the laity, as well as the simplification of the liturgy to more fully reflect “the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts” (Ford, 1-3).

Recent Rectors

Following the sharp decrease in attendance following the civil disturbances in Newark, Father Grahame Butler-Nixon (1971-76) consolidated the parish’s services and began the process of leading the parish in adopting the upcoming revision of the prayerbook. James McGregor continued the tradition of the boys’ choir as well as introducing Renaissance polyphony and Gregorian chant (9-12). Father George Bowen (1977-94), a former curate under Father Brown, was called as Grace Church’s next rector, leading the parish into the adoption of the new prayerbook, the use of Rite II (contemporary language liturgy) on Sundays, as well as reforming the parish’s liturgy. He invited women to serve at the altar, adopted the 1982 Hymnal, and led in the installation of an excellent mechanical-action Casavant organ. “Reform as it was carried out in many places secularized the liturgy…. At Grace Church the liturgy was never secularized. Reform never robbed it of its grandeur or diminished its power to instill in worshippers a sense that they were standing at he junction of time and eternity, participating in a great and awesome mystery” (20). “During the seventeen years that Father Bowen served as rector, the composition of the congregation changed dramatically. Although it had included African Americans in its number since the nineteenth century, it had remained mostly white until about 1980. Then, as many longtime members began to die, others who had immigrated to the area from the Caribbean islands and from Africa moved in to replace them. By 1990 they far outnumbered Caucasians” (20-21). Father J. Carr Holland, III (1995-2010), who had been a curate under Father Bowen, “brought exceptional pastoral gifts to the job and quickly established warm relations with the people of the parish. He helped individuals who stood on the periphery of  parish life to become more fully involved” (23). He reintroduced many midweek services as well as increasing attendance at Holy Week services. He inaugurated a homework assistance, as well as a food distribution program, and served on many important diocesan committees. Father Holland oversaw the hiring of Joseph Arndt, an organ student at Juilliard, as the new Director of Music. Father J. Brent Bates (2011-present) was elected as Grace Church’s most recent rector. He completed his Anglican Studies from General Theological Seminary and holds a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from Drew University. He is the founding convener of the Newark Chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests. Father Bates introduced a Parish Forum, re-introduced Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and along with Joseph Arndt, led the re-envisioning of the boys’ choir as a Choristers program (now to include girls). Along with the renaissance of the City of Newark, the parish is growing with both people who live within Newark and from its suburbs. Grace Church in Newark continues to be a parish that values traditional liturgy, fine music, as well as diversity, inclusivity, and compassionate outreach to its community.

Resources

Edward F. Bataille’s Grace Church in Newark: The First Hundred Years, 1837-1937.

Cameron Allen’s Growth in Grace: A Sequel, 1937-1962, to Grace Church in Newark: The First Hundred Years, 1837-1937.

Bruce Ford’s Sustained and Renewed by Grace: A History of Grace Church in Newark, 1962-2012.