History Minute 16

A History Minute
(#16 in a series)

In 1936, Isabella Wilson, Grace's Director of Religious Education, was the first female elected as Grace's delegate to the Archdeaconry of Lowell (roughly similar to the present Charles River Deanery). FDR was re-elected (electoral votes of every state except Maine and Vermont); "Gone With the Wind" published; "I'm an Old Cowhand" and "I've Got You Under My Skin"; Shirley Temple's first film, age 8; Hoover Dam; gold medals for Jesse Owens(and one for Jackie Robinson's older brother) at the Berlin Olympics in front of an enraged Adolph Hitler.

With the illness of Rector Tage Teisen leading to his resignation in February, 1936, Grace was back to its diet of rotating supply ministers. Yet the substitutes this time lasted for only seven months, as the Vestry agreed upon a suitable new person: the Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Malden. Rev. H. Robert Smith ("H" for "Harry") became Grace's Rector #9 in September. Rev. Smith had served at St. Paul's for twelve years and may have had his eye on our parish, as he was the summer replacement for four Sundays in July at Grace in 1933, 1934, and 1935...and thus no stranger to our church. Born in Illinois, Rev. Smith had graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut at age 25, having taken time out to serve as an Artillery Lieutenant in World War I. Rev. Smith did his theological training in Cambridge at ETS (now EDS). The 42 year-old rector, his wife Anne, and their three young children thus moved into the stone Rectory on the Grace Church driveway during the summer of 1936.While at Grace,Rev. Smith continued his studies at ETS, earning a doctorate in 1940. An accomplishment of Rector Smith's initial year was the conversion of the church library into a chapel (the chapel we enjoy today). Yet no change comes easily: Mr. Fawcett  resigned after seventeen years on the Vestry, arguing that during the Depression it was not appropriate for Grace Church to undertake a building project.Within a year of Rev. Smith's arrival, Alison Umbsen and her family transferred to Grace Church from Trinity, Boston.

A curious event occurred during the Annual Meeting of 1937: a Mr. Kenway asked"Is the spiritual efficiency of Grace Church as high as it ought to be? And if not, why not?" A clue concerning what Kenway might have meant by "spiritual efficiency" is found in Rev. Smith's report in the next Yearbook..."[S]cattered, irregular attendance at church breaks down the life of a parish...the rest [of us] are left to mush along with the smaller half of our people....Can a regiment of soldiers add to its glorious past with half of its members 'absent without leave'? Could an orchestra make a very joyful noise with nobody behind the music racks of half its members? Neither can a church be anything but ineffectual with only a scattered loyalty to its chief function, the Service of Divine Worship....An irregular congregation means that any continuity in preaching is futile. If [attendance] is to depend upon...whether or not there are a few drops of rain on Sunday morning, why bother? Or if attendance at church ranks only fifth or sixth in the list of Sunday occupations, what is the use of priest or preacher taking the matter any more seriously than that?...It is exactly the same problem that crops up in a family when the children ask at the breakfast table on Sunday morning, Why do you send us to church school when you don't go to church yourself?"

During World War II, many men and women from Grace served in the Armed Forces; a committee of women mailed Grace Church's weekly bulletins to them overseas twice each month. During the war-time fuel shortage of 1943, Immanuel Baptist Church (on Centre Street opposite Eliot Church) exhausted their ration of heating oil and was forced to close for the winter. Grace Church invited the pastor and congregation to join our worship until spring - which they did. "And they were real Baptists, too!" observes Martha Bell. After the War, the mood of the country was different. The wish for a new beginning was reflected in the Vestry who accepted Rev. Smith's resignation effective September 1, 1945, ending his nine years at Grace Church. What would "post-war" Newton and Grace Church be like? Find out in the next History Minute.
Don Kennedy, 
Parish Historian