Not to be confused with Grace Baptist Church, on West Avenue in South Norwalk, or Grace Family Church on Wall Street, we’re talking about Grace Episcopal Church at 1 Union Park.
In 1890, 31 members of Saint Paul’s-on-the-Green Episcopal Church, Norwalk, “walked down the hill” and founded Grace Episcopal Church. Originally located at Belden Avenue and Cross Street, the Great Flood of 1955 caused the church to relocate to its current address at the corner of Mott Avenue and Union Park in 1964.
Grace Church was a thriving parish, with a congregation large enough to boast over 200 children in its Sunday School. However, Episcopalians are awful at replacing themselves, and as people moved out of state or died, the congregation dwindled. Today, average Sunday attendance at Grace, for all ages, is 50 souls. The average age of membership is over 60.
Grace Church is now having to decide what its future will be, and one of the options for that future is to close the doors of Grace forever.
The question is, will anyone in Norwalk notice if Grace Episcopal Church closes?
Of course, the members of the three groups of Alcoholics Anonymous who meet at Grace on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, will notice if Grace closes. The Thursday night Manic Depressives Support Group will notice. The Literacy Volunteers and their students, who study English almost every day of the week at Grace, will notice. The Senior Services Umbrella Group will have to find a different place for their quarterly meetings. Two churches rent space for worship, prayer and study at Grace – L’Eglise Baptiste des Haitiennes, who have been at Grace for over fourteen years, and the Remnant of God Church will have to relocate. The Fairfield Symphony, who only just found Grace as a replacement for their previous home, will be looking again for a place to make music together if Grace Episcopal Church closes.
It’s hard to believe that closing might be in the offing, with so many good things happening at Grace.
Grace Episcopal Church was the first organization to catch the vision of helping to build a school for girls in Waterloo, Sierra Leone. Grace Church connected with FAWE, a pan-African organization of women dedicated to education and, through donations that involved the community outside of the congregation of Grace itself, raised the money to build a two room classroom block, the first such block.
Other organizations visited the school and, seeing the plaque on the side of the building, commemorating Grace Church Norwalk’s sponsorship, asked if they could piggy-back on Grace’s work. As a result, an organization in New Haven, Connecticut has been working to provide a library, and another in the Netherlands has contributed to a second block of classrooms and a computer lab.
Three of Grace Episcopal Church’s members visited the school and met the girls and their teachers and families. The real need, now, is scholarships so the girls can continue their education. I can guarantee that, without Grace’s leadership in raising those scholarships, the entire village of Waterloo, Sierra Leone will notice if Grace Episcopal Church closes.
Meanwhile, the work of the Gospel continues at Grace. A service of prayers for healing and laying on of hands is offered at 10:00 a.m. on the fourth Saturday of the month. On the fourth Sunday of the month, at 8:00 a.m., people gather to perform some service to the community outside of the congregation of Grace Church. On the second Saturday of the month, The Mission Congregation of Grace Church meets at 1:00 p.m. for three hours of study, reflection and worship. On the second Sunday of each month, at 11:30 a.m. following the 10:00 service, Practicing Prayer offers support for people’s prayer lives.
This year we had three special events for children: The Real Hallowe’en! offered crafts and activities and lunch, followed by the story of The Real Hallowe’en, where Hallowe’en came from and what it means in the life of Christians. The Real Christmas! was a big party, with games, crafts and lunch, followed by the story of The Jesse Tree, Jesus’s family tree.
The Real Good Friday!: A Walk to Easter saw sixteen children gathered with adults at Grace for the noon service. With a time of meditative music and silences for adults, and activities and an egg hunt for children, the Walk to Easter concluded with all ages joining to experience the last week of Jesus’s life, and a taste of the resurrection.
Meanwhile, children’s Sunday education and adult Wednesday night studies continue. Sunday worship and Holy Days are observed, the Gospel is preached, the sick and shut-ins are visited, and the work of the church goes on.
If it weren’t for the dwindling savings and the shrinking congregation to support the work of the Gospel at Grace Episcopal Church, you wouldn’t be able to tell the church faces closure.
Almost in defiance of this threat of closing, Grace is now looking at a liturgical ministry with people who live on the streets of Norwalk. Sunday worship outside, followed by a meal, armed with spiritual support and information on resources, and maybe even a place for people without traditional homes to have a mailbox, or a place to store their belongings during the daytime – this is what may be in the near future for Grace Episcopal Church.
Grace Episcopal Church is not closing anytime soon. If indeed Grace does close, it will leave a hole in the city of Norwalk, and it will do so not with a whimper but with a bang, preaching, learning and living the gospel for all to see, here at the corner of Union Park and Mott Avenue, one way or another, every day of the week.