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Another Rector. A Boston Fire Touches Grace. (1872-74)

posted Mar 13, 2012, 2:09 PM by Todd Randolph
When Rev. Mayer resigned, the Vestry acted swiftly.  Thus on July 1, 1872 (the day on which Mayer's resignation became effective), Joseph Shelburne Jenckes preached his first sermon as rector #4. 

In September, the cornerstone of our present stone church was brought from the existing Grace chapel, and laid by Rev. Fales (the rector of Christ Church, Waltham who had helped with the birth of our parish in 1855).  Four months after Jenckes' arrival, disaster struck the financial base of Grace Church: a great fire destroyed the richest quarter of Boston's business district, 60 acres of commercial land; 767 buildings gutted; 21 business owners among the Grace Church Corporation commuted to Boston, 15 of whom had firms completely destroyed.  Many persons who did not own businesses lost their jobs. 

Rev. Greene, still a financial supporter of Grace Church, lost several paintings by his grandfather, John Singleton Copley, and other valuable possessions.  Plans for our stone church were scaled back...and it took fifteen years to pay off our mortgage.  Legend has it that "residents of Newton suffered more from the fire than did Boston". Rectors #1-3 almost never attended meetings of the Grace Church Vestry which routinely were held at noon in the Boston offices of Vestrymen. Due to the fire, Vestry meetings moved to Newton, with Rev. Jenckes becoming the first rector regularly to attend meetings of the Grace Vestry. 

Jenckes, our first "high church" rector, used flowery Victorian vocabulary. Although Newton churches placed weathervanes on their spires, Jenckes donated the large cross atop our steeple and advocated the installation of stained glass windows...both viewed as in-your-face gestures.  On St. Andrews Day in 1873, the first service was held in our present church. A newspaper described Grace, the first stone church in Newton, as "...much the most pretentious church building in the village". When Mr. Linder, a Grace parishioner, died, Jenckes married the man's wealthy young widow, and left Grace Church after two years.  The Vestry departed from its usual routine and did not express "regret" when Jenckes' resigned. One-to-two years in a position was Rev. Jenckes' career pattern both before and after Grace; eventually he left the Episcopal Church to become a Roman Catholic. 

The steam-driven "White Swan" paddle boat regularly transported 100 passengers on the Charles River between Auburndale's Commonwealth Ave. Bridge and the Moody St. Bridge in Waltham; Newton became a city the year our stone church opened; "Silver Threads Among the Gold" and "Home on the Range" were published. Thus, Grace had had four rectors in its first 19 years; in the next "History Minute" we will meet a rector who stayed for 31 years, and changed the history of Newton.