Grace Episcopal Church has long been a presence in Martinez being the second oldest. It is also one of the oldest in Contra Costa County. St. Paul’s in Benicia is the oldest. The first services in Martinez were purported to have been in someone’s home during the winter of 1854-55. In the early 1860s people in Martinez attended St. Paul’s, crossing the straits by boat. Occasionally the Rector of St. Paul’s would cross over to Martinez and the services would again be held in someone’s home. On April 2, 1862, Mrs. Martha Coffin and Miss Caroline Fish and nine other women formed a society whose purpose was to hold Episcopal services in Martinez and to teach their children the good news of Jesus Christ. Priests from St. Paul’s and local lay readers would hold services. This was the beginning of our association with Father Breck. The first Eucharist was held in a home Easter 1868.
Father James Lloyd Breck, born in 1818, was contemporary of the great push westward and the disappearance of the frontier. A devout Episcopalian from birth, he was greatly influenced by the Oxford Movement – the rediscovery of the Catholic heritage and tradition of the Anglican Communion. We see Father Breck as a missionary, priest, teacher, founder of parishes, schools, colleges and seminaries. In the 1840’s he was involved in spreading the gospel in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Father Breck came to the “last frontier” California, and in 1867 organized the Pacific Associate Mission with Martinez as one of the projected mission stations in and extending along the east bay from Benicia to San Jose. The anchor of the chain was in Benicia where he and three other priests lived in a semi-monastic community which included at that time, St. Paul’s, St. Augustine’s Collage and Seminary and St. Mary’s School for girls.
Under his leadership the Church in Martinez grew and prospered. And this is the time that the women of the Church in Martinez began their long and faithful service to Grace. Women such as Mrs. Coffin and Miss Fish have played significant leadership roles in our Church. In 1869, through efforts of some devoted women, money was raised and the Church building was begun and completed under the close supervision of Reverend E. P. Gray. The building, located at the corner of Green and Mellus Streets, was consecrated on July 11, 1870, by the Rt. Rev. William Ingraham Kip, Bishop of California. Services were held in the Church for the next 73 years. An additional parcel was purchased for the Rectory that would front on Court Street. The Church had to be moved to make room for the Rectory. Father Abercrombie purchased the Rectory in 1885. He served as Rector from 1880 until his death in 1889.
The included picture shows the interior of the Church. The triptych in the center above the Altar was dedicated by the Rev. James Abercrombie, D.D., Rector in 1882 to the memory of Father Breck who did March 30, 1876. Through an appeal in “The Living Church” he raised funds for the large window in the photo. The Good Shepherd window was lost when the Church was sold. The two side windows were found on a sheet of plywood in the attic of our present Church. The windows were designed and build by Edward Colgate of New York. The church was closed for nine months in 1881-1882. Beginning in March 1872, Dr. Breck and Reverend William Tucker handled most of the services supplemented by Mr. H. W. Taylor, Lay Reader.
The bell, later named “Gabriel” was purchased for $300 in 1875. It was cast by the W. T. Garrett Company in San Francisco. The bell was first housed in a separate bell tower adjacent to the Church but was later transferred to a belfry on the Church building. It is the second oldest bell in Martinez. Father Abercrombie obtained most of the brass in the Church as memorials from friends in the East.
The Church at the corner of Green and Las Juntas Streets was sold in 1941. During the next two years services were held in Parishioners’ homes including that of Newell and Ella Wood. Then in 1943, the Lamb’s Club, a men’s boarding house at 904 Mellus Street was purchased and services were held at this location until it was sold in 1955. Members saved most of the gifts that had been given to the Church but the center window of the triptych was lost. The side windows, saved and lost, but were later found as described earlier. The bell was stored. It was installed in a frame tower at the Church on Mellus Street in 1949. And when that property was sold it was stored on the Edwards ranch where it was used to call in the workers. The original font had been saved and lost. But it was found and stored.
Vestry minutes, newsletters, and Annual Reports tell of struggles, activities, and growth of Grace Church during this time. Under the leadership of Father Inlow, the building fund supported by many parishioners enables the purchase of a new site for Grace Church, the six acres on Muir Station Road, in 1954. Ground was broken on July 24, 1955, for the construction of the Chapel. While the new church was being built, services were held in the rectory on Canyon Way. The Reverend Doctor Harold Kelley supervised the construction and personally made the altar, communion rail and kneelers for the chairs. The Chapel was dedicated on November 24, 1955. This is the area presently (2013) occupied by a portion of the Sunday school and the kitchen. A low structure was built near the entrance and the bell was relocated from the ranch to this structure. It could be rung by a person standing next to it swinging the bell by hand.
Increased Church activities brought about the construction of the Parish Hall under the supervision of Father William B. Carns. The Church continued to grow during Father Carns’ fourteen years of leadership. The groundbreaking in November, 1968, marked the beginning of construction of the present Church building. The original plans showed a wall on the westerly end that would match up with a gothic structure with a vaulted ceiling. This was proved to be far beyond the means of the Congregation so the plans were modified to show the present building. On September 14, 1969, the Right Reverend C. Kilmer Meyers dedicated the new Church, but without a bell tower or steeple. As had been evident throughout the history of Grace Church, the Women’s group held many fund raisers to provide carpeting and many appointments. Interestingly, this was just 100 years after the first Church was erected.
In 1979 a group of parishioners joined together to construct a bell tower at its present location. Some 40 or 50 people participated in one form or another; from the generous donations of time, talent, and treasure for design work, lunches for the crews and labor of all sorts toward the successful completion of the project. For over 145 years Gabriel has been used to call people to services, for weddings, funeral celebration and it joined in the National Bell Ringing celebration of our nation’s bicentennial.
At the direction of Reverend George C. L. Ross, the two side windows were found in the Church Choir loft attic and restored by the McKeever Studios in Benicia in 1980 and installed on either side of a large cross over the altar. A new Good Shepherd window was designed and crafter by artist William Runstrom and Gerry Emsminger of McKeever Studios of Vallejo, and replaced the cross above the altar between the two exterior windows, thus completing the original triptych. The cross was suspended from the ceiling.
Also around this time, the next construction project was the atrium at the front of the Church. This gave us an opportunity to install the original font outside so that baptisms and other services could be held out there. While we were at it, the cement block exterior was color coated to match the atrium and the bell tower. The Gates to Grace were constructed at the foot of the hill leading up to Grace. Interior construction provided nine lights “window boxes” in the nave against the cement block wall. Stained glass windows were installed depicting scenes from the Bible. Also a stained glass scene was installed over the interior Baptismal Font.
Thanks to a generous bequest by Fern and Greg Bell, the Sunday school wing was extended to its present size. Next came the extension of the Parish Hall as it stands today. This completed the courtyard appearance that we now enjoy. The stained glass window work described earlier was followed by the installation of three triple windows on the west wall of the church facing the courtyard, and two double windows in the narthex in 1990. The final (?) window project in 2015, was the installation of the Constellation Windows above the choir loft to get rid of interior glare and to celebrate the birthdays of all members of Grace Church, past, present and future.
In 1999, the office of the Rector was converted into a chapel. This small chapel was designed to be used for weekday celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, services of Evening Prayer as well as for private meditation. The Chapel also serves as a columbarium and contains bronze niches which are reserved for members of the Parish. There are also two beautiful stained glass windows that were installed in 2000. It should be noted that all of the stained glass windows have been designed and crafted by artist William Runstrom and Gerry Emsminger of McKeever Studios in Vallejo to compliment the various elements of the life of our Lord. It was during this time that we burned our mortgage, Hurray!
During these years a number of other projects were also completed. The original organ was replaced by one complete with pipes. Because of major failure in the Church floor it had to be completely replaced, various building alterations were made to provide access for disabled people, the septic tanks were replaced by a connection to the City’s sewer system and a reconstruction of the atrium due to solar damage. All with a lot of help from and by Parishioners. Dual pane windows, a new kitchen, improved lighting in the parking lot, a new and improved playground and a deck around the parish hall are examples of some of the projects taken on by church members. Boy Scouts working for their Eagle badges are responsible for retaining walls, a sprinkler system and a barbeque area.
Not to be outdone, the ladies of Grace are responsible for the floral art that surrounds our courtyard and graces the entrance to the narthex and the outdoor baptismal font. An outdoor meditation area in a secluded copse of trees was constructed on the easterly side of the Church. The Right Reverend William Swing, Bishop of the Diocese of California, consecrated the Chapel of the Resurrection in 1999. During this visit to the Parish, Bishop Swing, much to our delight, coined the phrase, “Grace Cathedral East.”
Much has happened during the 145 years of Grace. And, as one might begin to understand from the preceding, it is in large part due to the perseverance of many people through the generous donation of their time, talent and treasure that much has happened. Many plaques, some very old and some new, have been installed around the property that commend people for their thoughtfulness and generosity. Many of the gifts are remembrances and all are to the Glory of God. One of the plaques commemorates one of the people killed in the great Port Chicago explosion in World War II. There is a special group on the wall of the Parish Hall that recognize actions or gifts for the church often by people that were or were not members of Grace. Many are from folks that just happened to be in the right place at the right time, saw something that needed to be done, and did it. It seems that the spirit of Grace is contagious.
The work in and outside the Parish continues. Especially by the ladies of the Church. They take part in many activities; feeding the homeless and the poor, supplying backpacks for school children, adopting families at Christmas, providing dinners at the Women’s Shelter, and gathering items and shipping them to members of the Military overseas.
This is all part of the ongoing spirit of Grace Episcopal Church. Thanks be to God!
Appendix I – In the Beginning
Appendix II – The Early Years
Appendix III – The Reverend James Lloyd Breck
Appendix IV – Tidbits – A sampling of activities 1879 to 1899
Appendix V – Clergy
Appendix 1 – In the Beginning
GRACE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
(The opening of this “history” is taken verbatim from the “History of Contra Costa County, California”, published by W.A. Slocum & Co., Publishers, 1882.)
GRACE CHURCH, MARTINEZ, (PROTESTANT ESPISCOPAL). – The history of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Martinez is inseparably connected with that of Benicia, whither as early as 1854, and for years after, members of the church were wont to cross the Straits of Carquinez and proceed.
The first clergyman of the church known to have officiated in Benicia was the Rev. D. J. Moore, although services had been held there by Major Townsend, U.S.A., as far back as September 24, 1854. The second clergyman was Rev. Orange Clarke, who came to California as Chaplain to the U. S. Marine Hospital, who, although unconnected with any parish as Rector, rendered his services at different points, as needed.
This is the first clergyman of the church known to have held services in Martinez, and was during the Winter of 1854-55. The next occasional officiating clergyman was Rev. Elijah W. Hager, Chaplain U.S.N. To the gentlemen who first had charge of St. Paul’s Church, Benicia, as Rector (1858), the church in Martinez is also indebted, but to none does it owe more of its early growth than to the Rev. James Cameron, who had charge of St. Paul’s Parish from 1860 to 1866. He officiated in the Methodist Church in Martinez very frequently, and during his incumbency Mr. J. Williams, of Martinez, who had been Junior Warden and Vestryman of St. Paul’s, and Mr. Samuel Gray, of Benicia, acted as Lay Readers alternately in this place. In November, 1866, Mr. Cameron was succeeded by Rev. Henry G. Perry, who from that time also officiated at Martinez. Here he established a Sunday-school, procured for it a new library, and supplied it with catechisms. He found also that plans and specifications for a church had been prepared with a view to building, the occasional services being still held in the Methodist House of Worship. The communicants, however, remained attached to St. Paul’s Church, Benicia, where the Eucharist was regularly administered to them, they crossing the Straits for that purpose.
On February 3, 1867, Martinez was visited by the Right Rev. Bishop Kip, who preached in the Methodist church. On October 9, 1867, the Pacific Associate Mission was organized in the Church of the Holy Communion, New York, by Revs. James Lloyd Breck, D.D. and John A. Merrick, D.D.,Priests; and Revs. E.C. Cowan, B.D., and James H. Smith, Deacons. They reached San Francisco November 3rd, and San Jose on the following day, and immediately commenced their work of education and missions. The missionary field was apportioned into eight stations, of which Martinez was one: the Rev. Mr. Perry transferring his church work at this juncture (1868) to their care. In January, 1868, they removed to Benicia, where they founded the Missionary College of St. Augustine, and from that point as a center carried on their missionary work.
The first known administration of the Holy Eucharist at Martinez was by them, on Easter Sunday, 1868, nine communicants being present, besides the missionaries. The members of St. Augustine’s College, under the supervision of the Rev. Dr. Breck, Dean, continued their care of the mission at Martinez through the year 1869-70; the work being first under the charge of Rev. E. P. Gray, Professor of Literature and Interpretation of Scripture. At this time considerable earnestness seems to have been aroused among the members of the church in the village, and during the year 1869, through the exertions of certain ladies of the congregation, money was raised, and the church building was begun and completed. The plans were furnished by Rev. Mr. Gray, and he superintended its erection. The work was commenced the last of July or beginning of August, and finished early in October. The entire cost of the church was seventeen hundred and fifty dollars. Soon after the completion of the church, Mr. Gray gave place to Rev. E. C. Cowan, Headmaster of St. Augustine’s Grammar School, who continued in charge until the spring of 1870. Yet, until May, 1870, the communicants at Martinez had not severed their connection with St. Paul’s, Benicia, Dr. Breck’s parish. In January, 1870, by the advice of Rev. Dr. Breck, the church property was deeded in trust to the Bishop of the Diocese and his successor in office. On Sunday, July 10, 1870, Grace Church, Martinez, was consecrated by the Right Rev. William Ingraham Kip, D.D. he being assisted in the services by Revs. Dr. Breck and E. S. Cowan. The request for consecration was read by Mr. C. C. Swain, and the sentence of consecration by Rev. Mr. Cowan, who had been the last missionary in charge. During the visit the Bishop appointed Judge Thomas A. Brown and C. C. Swain trustees to take charge of the church property. On June 10, 1870, the constitution of St. Augustine’s College at Benicia had been so changed that the theological and college departments were suspended. Dr. Breck and his associates in the Theological School resigned, and the Associate Mission came to an end. The connection of Rev. J. A. Merrick, D.D. with the college and mission being thus severed, August, 24, 1879 he took pastoral charge of the new parish of Grace Church, Martinez, now for the first time become wholly independent of the church in Benicia. Dr. Merrick continued his charge only to the beginning of the year 1871, when failing health obligated his to resign.
From February 1, to July 1, 1871, Rev. Wm. Benet was engaged to act as missionary; but from the time of his departure no services were held in the church until March 1872, when arrangements were made by Dr. Breck, by which either he, or Rev. William P. Tucker supplied the place as they were able, or Mr. H. W. Taylor acted as Lay Reader. This arrangement continued for a year and a half, the duty for the most part failing upon Mr. Tucker, at that time Rector of St. Augustine’s College. In October, 1873, the Bishop sent Rev. Henry B. Monges, Deacon, to take charge of the parish. Mr. Monges gave his services to the church from that time until August, 1878, when he resigned the parish into the hands of the Bishop, but still, at the Bishop’s request, kept up services for over a year more. During his charge a tower was erected, and a bell procured, at a cost of nearly six hundred dollars; a new organ and a new carpet for the church were bought and over two hundred volumes were given by his personal friends to the Sunday School Library.
Appendix II – The Early Years1869-1870
As reported in the Slocum History, the first church building was built in 1869, at Green and Las Juntas Streets, under the close supervision of the Rev. E. P. Gray. Shortly thereafter, the Rev. E. C. Cowan was in charge for a few months, to be followed in August 1870 by the Rev. J. A. Merrick, D.D., who was forced to resign due to failing health in January 1871. A period of nine months elapsed with no services and beginning March 1872 Dr. Breck and Rev. William Tucker handled the services, supplemented by Mr. H. W. Taylor, Lay Reader. The Rev. Henry B. Monges took charge of the parish in October 1873 and remained until August 1878.
During this time, in 1875, the bell was purchased for approximately $300. It was cast by the W. T. Garrett Company, San Francisco, and is the second oldest bell in Martinez. It was first housed in a separate bell tower adjacent to the church building on Green Street, but was later transferred to a belfry on the church building. When the Green Street property was sold in 1941, the bell was first stored at the home of Hugh Morison at Avon, and then at the ranch of T.O. Edwards, Jr., to whom it was loaned. In June 1949 the bell was installed in a frame tower on the Mellus Street church building, and when that property was sold in 1955 it was moved to the church property on Muir Road. It is interesting to note that the funds for the purchase and installation of the bell were raised through the efforts of the Rev. Monges, Judge Brown, and the ladies of the Guild who put on a two day festival which netted $180.
Church records indicate that the property for the first church was given by Judge T.A. Brown, and other notes indicate that the women of the church paid $100. At one point the church building was moved to make room for the construction of a rectory, facing Court Street.
Appendix III – The Reverend James Breck “We have a real Church”
The Rev. James B. Abercrombie served Grace Church from 1880 until his death in 1889. Notes in the church files indicate a great deal of love for the Rev. and Mrs. Abercrombie by the parishioners. In 1885 he purchased the rectory for $985. with the interest on the purchase money to be reckoned as rent paid by him, the church to repay the balance on his resignation or death. He obtained almost all of the brass now used in our church as memorials from friends in the East and through an appeal in the Living Church, in 1881, raised funds for the large stained glass window in the first church.
(Excerpt from the Living Church, January 28, 1882):
Letter to the Editor: BRECK MEMORIAL WINDOW
Feeling that a parish should always have a special work, I proposed to my little flock a year ago from last Thanksgiving, the setting-up of a memorial Chancel-Window, to the noble and devoted Missionary, the Rev. James Lloyd Breck, D. D., to whom, under God, they owed so much as the founder of their church. The proposition touched a chord most tenderly responsive. But it was feared that, in our struggling weakness, the earnest wish of loving hearts, full of sweet and holiest memories, would be a long time in the accomplishment. At the suggestion, however, of a Reverend Brother (a graduate of Nashotah when dear Breck was at its head) I published the THE LIVING CHURCH an appeal for aid in our work of love. And—Bless God! That deep Missionary Spirit, in the origination of which, years ago, when Wisconsin was deemed “The Far West” he whose memory we would honor and visibly perpetuate, had so much to do, was not slow in participating most heartily and substantially, and as a real privilege, in our undertaking. Clergy, laymen, saintly women, and little children soon made us feel that our desired “In Memoriam” was a well assured success. And, at the recent Thanksgiving, in the midst of an abundant display of the fruits of the earth, by delicate hands most tastefully arranged, and filling all hearts with thankfulness, I was privileged to announce to a large congregation as an additional and an especial cause of Thanksgiving, that the memorial chancel-window, we had reason to hope, would be in place on Christmas Day. In this, however, we were disappointed. But on New Year’s Day—with the church still joyous in its elaborate Christmas decoration—and well filled with a delightful congregation—there it was, lighting up most beauteously the Churchly-Chancel, where our dear departed brother had so often stood; as true a servant of the Altar as ever was ordained to minister in holy things. And, prepared for the Altar, on the Prothesis, were the Paten and Chalice once his own property, and probably carried with him in many a missionary tour; it may be, at the very time when in our young manhood, as Heralds of the Gospel, we were dwelling close by one another.
The window is a triplet, six and a half feet by ten feet. The central figure is the Good Shepherd, with a countenance, as has been remarked with much truth, “of beautiful and tender expression.” Above, is a descending Dove, surmounted to the right and left by Alpha and Omega. Below is the I.H.S. On either side, are the symbols of the four Gospels, and of the Holy Eucharist; and at the base, is “in Memoriam, the Rev. James Lloyd Breck, D. D., Died March 30th, 1876.” The design is most appropriate, and the coloring and effect of the whole admirable and elegant. We heartily congratulate the designer and maker, Edward Colgate, that my own success, under God, through the loving cooperation of dear Brethen, in this undertaking, is to me one of the very happiest events of a long ministry of over forty-three years.
Appendix IV – Tidbits 1879 – 1899
Since the women of Grace Church appear to have played a very large role in its support, it is fitting to enter here excerpts from notes of Guild meetings during this time period:
“Nov 10, 1883: The ladies of the parish met at Judge Brown’s home and organized a church Guild and elected Miss Julia Fish, Pres., Mrs. Thomas, V. Pres., Mrs. Williams, Secy., Mrs. Charles Swain, Asst. Secy., Miss Caroline Fish, Treas. Met every Thursday.”
“May 1887 – Made 54.85, sale of ice cream and cake at Odd Fellows Picnic (Paid toward Rectory lot debt.)”
“June 16 Garden Party at Rectory – A large number of persons were in attendance and thanks are due to our kind Rector and his good wife for their entertainment.”
“July 21, 1887 – Diocesan letter re Women’s Auxiliary. Decided to send clothing and other items to SF branch of Women’s Auxiliary.”
“Oct 20th, 1887 – Officers to be fined 10 cents for being absent more than one meeting (.10 for each day absent) On Oct 27th one member paid .10 rather than sew! Mrs. D. R. Thomas gave invitations to members of the Guild, their families and friends to partake of baked beans and other good things two weeks from date, admittance twenty-five cents each (made $4.50)”
“Totals Receipts for 1888 – $274.15. Jan 24, 1889 – paid $35. On rectory debt.”
“Sept. 19, 1889 – No meeting of the Guild held on this date – on account of the death of our beloved Rector, Rev. James Abercrombie, D. D., who dies September 17th at the age of 74 years.”
“Oct. 1889 – The members rejoice that the male members of Grace Church have this year assumed the responsibility of paying all the bills and the debt of $300. On the rectory.”
“Sept. 27, 1894 – Proceeds from “Moonlight Social” $28.00 $25 paid out for choir vestments.”
“Dec. 31, 1896 – After considerable persuasion we finally procured the bills from Mr. Lee which he had incurred for the Christmas tree – he insisted upon paying all expenses himself. The presents and candy purchased by him amounted to $12.80.”
“April 20, 1897 – All went home feeling much satisfied as we found we had money in the treasury and no outstanding bills.”
“1899 – The Vicar officiated at a wedding and the groom gave him a sewing machine for use by the Guild.”
Appendix V – CLERGY
In the early times services were not held on a regular basis as the officiates had to cross the Straits from Benicia. Also during this time some only participated in a few services. In early times services were often led by lay people. A few names may have been omitted due to missing records.
The Rev. Orange Clark 1854-1855 First services held in Martinez
The Rev. Elijah W. Hager 1858 Navy Chaplain
The Rev. James Cameron 1860-1866
The Rev. Henry G. Perry 1866-1867
The Rt. Rev. Bishop Kip 1867
The formation of the Pacific Associate Mission October 9, 1867.
The Rev. James Lloyd Breck, D.D. and The Rev. John A. Merrick, D.D., Priests
The Rev. E.C. Cowan, B.D. and the Rev. James H. Smith, Deacons
The Rev. E. P. Gray 1867-1870
First administration of the Holy Communion: Easter Sunday 1868
The Rev. E.C. Cowan 1869-1870
The Rt. Rev. William Ingraham Kip consecrated Grace Church, Martinez June 10, 1870
Assisted by the Rev. Dr. Breck and The Rev. E. C. Cowan: Request read by Mr. C. Swain
Mr. C. Swain and Judge Thomas A. Brown appointed trustees
The Rev. James Lloyd Breck recognized as the founder of Grace Episcopal Church, Martinez
The Rev. J. A. Merrick 1870-1871
The Rev. Wm. Benet 1871-1872
The Rev. William P. Tucker 1872-1873
The Rev. Henry b. Monges 1873-1878
**Information missing 1890-1911**
The Rev. E. Glandon Davies 1911-1920
The Rev. Milton R. Terry 1924-1924
The Rev. W. J. Attwood 1924-1925
The Rev. Albert E. Martyr 1926-1928
The Rev. A. Silverlight 1928-1933
The Rev. Bertram F. Bleil 1933-1938
The Rev. Enoch R. Jones 1938 Navy Chaplain
**No Services 1939-1942 **
The Rev. Paul L. Lattimore 1943-1947
The Canon A.N. Willliamson 1948 (6 weeks)
The Rev. Thomas Scott 1948-1952
The Rev. E. Burke Inlow 1952-1954
The Rev. John D. Spear 1955 (3 months)
The Rev. Harold Kelly 1955-1956
The Rev. William B. Carns 1956-1970
The Rev. Ellis E. Peterson 1971-1975
The Rev. Robert O. Adams 1975-1878
The Rev. George C.L. Ross 1978-2003
The Rev. James Croom 2003-2004 Interim
The Rev. Richard Hicks 2004 Interim (3 months)
The Rev. Jill Honodel 2004-2015
The Rev. Jeffrey L. Frost 2015 -2017 Interim (16 months)
The Rev. Dr. Deborah White 2017 –