An Historical Perspective of Grace Church

2019 marks the 175th Anniversary of Grace Church receiving its Certificate of Incorporation from New York State on August 12, 1844.  This milestone will be celebrated with various events throughout the year.  A committee of parishioners have been working for more than 12 months planning the calendar.  More information will be posted on the Church Web site, in monthly newsletter and Sunday Bulletin.  Check on Schedule of Events Page.

In the 175 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 700 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. 

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 currently serving more than 160  children for infant care, two's club,  nursery school and pre-K.  (2/2/2019)    

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.

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 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. The Church building was closed in early December to in person worship services and remains so. 

Fund raising activities