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Grace Turns 75. Another Fire (This One in Worcester) Affects Grace (1930-34)

posted Mar 14, 2012, 6:58 AM by Todd Randolph
After 22 years as Rector of Grace Church, Dr. MacLure was ready to retire at the end of 1929. Although the Vestry offered "to provide more help", MacLure insisted that after writing over 1,100 sermons he had "no fresh ideas". Thus the MacLures purchased a home in Newton and remained somewhat active at Grace Church. Following a brief search, the Vestry called Richard Greeley Preston to begin as Rector #7 during the spring of 1930...a mountain-climbing 35-year old to replace the 67-year old MacLure. Rev. Preston, the rector at Christ Church, Needham, had been successful in raising up that parish from mission status, and had more than tripled the size of the Sunday School. Richard and Marjorie Preston...she grew up in Brookline...had two young boys, Bob and Dickie.

In Needham, Rev. Preston had been elected to the School Committee. Preston, a graduate of Lexington High School followed by a prep year at Phillips Andover, had entered Princeton University. After his sophomore year, Preston became impatient that the United States was not helping France in WWI; thus he left Princeton and served for 27-months in France as a lieutenant on a British ambulance squad, remaining for four months of study at the Sorbonne after the war ended. After returning to Princeton, Preston was captain of his class soccer and ice hockey teams, graduating in 1920. Although selected for management training in a foundry near Philadelphia, to appreciate how the work was performed he volunteered to work as a laborer in the steel plant for a year. At this point, Preston decided to enter the ministry; he undertook a mission among Native American Indians in North Dakota,then enrolled at EDS (then ETS) in Cambridge. Upon graduation,Preston ran the East Lynn Mission as an Assistant at St. Stephen's, Lynn...from which he was called to lead the Christ Church Mission in Needham. Rev. Preston was a slim, athletic and gregarious person who enjoyed visiting in the homes of all classes of people, and was especially skilled helping the poor.

When Rev. Preston arrived at Grace Church in April, 1930, the church was only four months into the process of shifting to an annual pledging system, after 74 years of rented pews. There had been 201 rented pews in 1929...a pew could be rented for the 10:30 AM service only, for Sunday Evensong, or for both services. The Vestry was concerned that there were only 154 pledges for 1930.Early on, Preston appealed: "I earnestly urge your cooperation in the building up [of attendance] at our services" which, over a decade,had declined to164 worshippers at the 10:30 AM service and 41 more on Sunday evening. Despite the new free pew system, the Vestry promised that if parishioners would arrive a bit early for services "...every effort will be made to place regular worshippers in their accustomed pews each week".

The Great Depression was worsening, and Rector Preston noted that "...the church has a tremendous responsibility in contributing to the morale of its membership". Church and Sunday School attendance did increase with Preston as rector. To combat "the tension created by these hard times" Rev. Preston created a neighborhood "District organization", to hold periodic suppers and personalized gatherings of Grace Church parishioners within their neighborhoods. Grosvenor and Patty Calkins, among others, several times attempted to propose different persons for leadership positions (as delegates to the Annual Convention, or as Vestrymen), rather than re-electing incumbents; none of these new candidates were elected. When a church committee noted that the 75th anniversary of the founding of the parish would occur in 1930, they asked Rector Emeritus MacLure to write a history of Grace Church.MacLure responded that the 100th anniversary "would be a more appropriate occasion for a history";yet, if they were determined to produce a 75th anniversary booklet, better the committee "should ask the present rector"to be its author(!) The Prestons lived in the Rectory on our church driveway, moving from Needham with their two boys...yet,during the family's second year at Grace,seven year-old Dickie Preston died. 

Grace Church attendance and pledges did increase and Rev. Preston was a good match for the parish, yet a serious church fire in downtown Worcester changed everything. In 1933, All Saints, Worcester, the oldest parish in that city asked Rev. Preston to become their rector... although he had not applied for the position. The Vestry were taken by surprise, yet understood the dire need in Worcester, and realized that helping urban poor was a skill and passion of Rev. Preston. They gave their blessing "with regret" and with a large gift to the Prestons. The Vestry and parishioners appreciated the new burst of energy at Grace Church, even after only three and one-half years of Preston's enthusiastic leadership. Preston thus accepted the call, provided successful leadership, and today (2007) All Saints, Worcester is the largest parish in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. 

Who would succeed Rev. Preston?  This time Grace Church was not so lucky. Learn about a mis-match in the next History Minute.