Grace Episcopal Church is the second-oldest church in Martinez and the second oldest Episcopal Church in Contra Costa County. Grace originated as a “house church,” with lay ministers leading services during the 1850's. On April 2, 1862, eleven Martinez women provided for a formal Martinez parish. Initially, priests and lay leaders from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Benicia would come to the Martinez mission church to conduct services, with the first Eucharist occurring in Easter of 1868.
The Reverend James Lloyd Breck, rector of St. Paul’s in the late 1860's, is considered to be the founder of Grace Episcopal Church as he helped to plant and provided pastoral support for the parish during its years as a mission.
In 1869, the first church building was completed at a cost of $1750 and consecrated on July 11, 1870 by the Rt. Rev. William Ingraham Kip, Bishop of California, as a mission of the Diocese of California. Services were held in that church building for the next 73 years.
This photograph is of the interior of the first church building. The triptych in the center above the altar was dedicated to the memory of the Reverend James Lloyd Breck. The “Good Shepherd” window, designed by Edward Colgate, was lost when the first church building was sold. The two side windows, initially also lost but later found, have been incorporated into the current building.
A church bell was purchased in 1875 for $300, making it the second oldest bell in Martinez. 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 building, but was later transferred to a belfry.
After initially being served by priests from St. Paul’s, as well as St. Augustine’s College, Grace Martinez achieved parish status in 1879 when the Reverend J. A. Merrick, D.D. was appointed its first rector. A Rectory was added to the church property in 1885 under the leadership of The Reverend James Abercrombie.
The Church at the corner of Green and Las Juntas Streets was sold in 1941. During the next two years services were held in the homes of parishioners. In 1943, the Lamb’s Club, a men’s boarding house at 904 Mellus Street, was purchased. Services were held at that location until it was sold in 1955.
In 1954 the parish purchased six acres on Muir Station Road and building of a new church building began in 1955. During construction, services were held in the rectory on Canyon Way. The Reverend Dr. Harold Kelley, rector, supervised the construction and personally made the altar, communion rail and kneelers for the chairs. The Chapel was dedicated on November 24, 1955. When a new Sanctuary was constructed in the 1960s, the chapel building was modified to house the Parish Offices and Church School.
The current Sanctuary was constructed in 1968. The original plans called for a gothic structure with a vaulted ceiling. This proved to be beyond the means of the congregation, so the plans were modified, leading to the simpler building that now exists. The new church building was dedicated on September 14, 1969, without a bell tower or steeple.
In 1979 a group of parishioners joined together to construct a bell tower at its present location. Two side windows from the triptych in the original church building were found in the Church Choir loft attic and restored by the McKeever Studios in Benicia in 1980 and installed. A new “Good Shepherd” window was designed to replicate the lost window and crafted by McKeever Studios of Vallejo, thus restoring the original triptych.
The atrium at the entrance to the Sanctuary was built in 1984, at which time the original baptismal font was moved outside. The gates at the bottom of the hill were also installed in 1984.
The building which currently houses our Parish Offices and Church School and the Parish Hall were both completed in 1990. Three sets of windows were installed in the west wall of the church, followed by the two double windows in the narthex. The Constellation Windows above the choir loft were completed in 2015.
The original rector’s office off the narthex was converted into a small chapel in 1999. The Chapel of the Resurrection houses the Grace Episcopal Church Martinez Columbarium. The stained glass windows in the Chapel were designed and crafted by McKeever Studios in Vallejo. The church mortgage was paid off the same year.
Rectors Of Grace Church
The Rev. J. A. Merrick 1870-1871
The Rev. Henry B. Monges 1873-1878
The Rev. James B. Abercrombie 1880-1889
There is no information on the rectors from 1890-1911
The Rev. E. Glandon Davies 1911-1920
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
No Services held 1939-1942
The Rev. Paul L. Lattimore 1943-1947
The Rev. Thomas Scott 1948-1952
The Rev. E. Burke Inlow 1952-1954
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 1975-1978
The Rev. George C.L. Ross 1978-2003
The Rev. Jill Honodel 2004-2015
The Rev. Dr. Deborah White 2017
Stained Glass Windows
The first stained glass windows of Grace Episcopal Church were installed in the first church building in 1882. The “Memorial Chancel Window” was dedicated to the Reverend James Lloyd Breck, D.D., founder of the parish. According to a letter to the editor published in The Living Church in 1882:
"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, of New York, upon his signal success; and I must be permitted to add, that my own success, under God, through the loving cooperation of dear Brethren, in this undertaking, is to me one of the happiest events of a long ministry of over forty-three years.”
When the original church was sold by the Diocese of California in 1941, the triplet stained glass window above the altar was removed and put into storage and promptly lost. Several years after our present church was built, the left and right side stained glass window panels were found in an attic store room of the Parish Hall, but the center panel was missing. Using photographs of the original center panel as a guide, glass designer William Rundstrom produced a replica design of the center panel and McKeever Studios installed a completed triptych above and behind the altar in the church.
Over the ensuing years, Rundstrom designed an additional twenty stained glass windows, which were fabricated and installed by McKeever.
Interpretation of the Grace Church Stained Glass Windows
Four saints are depicted on the left and right panels. Each Saint is de picted by a symbol commonly used to represent them; Saint Matthew as a winged man, Saint Mark as a winged lion, Saint Luke as a winged ox, and Saint John as an eagle. Near the saints are two panels representing the elements of Holy Eucharist; on the left panel is a sheaf of wheat and on the right panel is a cluster of grapes. The sheaf of wheat and the cluster of grapes are symbols of the bread and wine that were blessed by Jesus at the last supper and shared with his disciples. Since bread and wine were such common food and drink at meals, it is not surprising that Jesus would choose these as the elements for his blessing and sharing.
In the center panel of the stained glass windows is the largest of all the images, that of The Good Shepherd. We find in the Good Shepherd the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
At the top of the center panel of the stained glass windows, there is an image of a white dove; it is upside down and appears to be descending. This image depicts the Holy Spirit descending from Heaven as we read in the Gospels.
To the left of the Holy Spirit dove are the Greek letter Alpha and on its right side is the Greek letter Omega. In the Greek alphabet, Alpha is the first letter and Omega is the last letter. Alpha and Omega, the first and the last signifies God’s eternity, time without end. The last of the symbols on the center panel of the stained glass windows is at the bottom. “HIS” is derived from the Greek spelling of the word for Jesus using the first three letters; iota, eta and sigma. Latinized, they become HIS, similar to the way in which the Greek Chi Rho were derived to become a symbol for Christ.
At the base of the triptych, spread across the three panels of the stained glass windows, is a dedication to The Rev. James Lloyd Breck, considered the spiritual founder of Grace.
Thirty-five years ago The Rev. George Ross, asked parishioner Cynthia Eastman-Roan to create an emblem with a gold anchor and two silver fish on a red background to serve as a logo for Grace. According to Eastman-Roan, Rev. Ross was very specific about how he wanted this to look, with the placement of the fish around the anchor. According to some sources. Rev. Ross wanted to show the association of Grace Church with the rich maritime and fishing history of Martinez and to associate them with the Christian use of the anchor and fish as a symbol of Christ.
The anchor and fish symbol dates back to the first century of the Common Era when Christians were persecuted by the Romans. In order to keep from being recognized by non-Christians, Christians modified their iconography. The anchor was used as a substitute for the cross, likely based on a quote from Hebrews 6 (“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain”). One Christian symbol for Christ was a fish because the Greek word for fish, “Ichtys,” is an acrostic for the initial letters of the Greek phrase, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”
In 2017 our leadership met to discuss and clarify the church’s mission, ultimately deciding that we are here to Welcome, Support and Serve all God’s people.
In 2020 we celebrated our 150th Anniversary as a parish and updated our logo to reflect our belief that loving one another must be shown in actions of respect and support for our neighbors, adopting the slogan, “Love in Action.”