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Happy Days. Connie Conn Reminisces (Forties and Fifties)

posted Mar 15, 2012, 2:10 PM by Todd Randolph
World War II ended, yet the comfortable "good old days" did not return. Just three months after the war's end, Rector #10 Rev. Robert Woodruffe began his fourteen years at Grace Church on Thanksgiving Sunday in 1945. Within a few years, Rev. Woodroofe wrote: "...we are all conscious of the possibility of war with Russia, the threat of atomic weapons and the presence of Communist agents at work in our country...changes in our parish membership list indicate the frequency with which people are moving in and out of Newton...brief residence in the parish and lack of community roots hinder the continuity and effectiveness of the church program". A Vestryman of those times, Theodore Jewell, Jr., was nicknamed "Skinny"; we were curious whether folks in those formal days would have used the nickname to his face? Thus we asked Connie Conn, who grew up in the parish with the Woodroofe children, to recall Grace Church at that time. Here isConnie's reply:

"Hard to believe that the events in my early lifetime are now "history"! My feeling is that Bob Woodruffe was the right man for the time at Grace, but what a different society it was -- and probably a quite different concept of what ministry and parish were all about....Grace was very committed (it seemed to me) to being "low" church, back when those labels meant something. The parish was pretty militant about not doing things that "high" Episcopal churches, like Advent in Boston, or even Good Shepherd in Waban, might do -- like using incense, priests wearing eucharistic vestments, even calling priests "priest." I think that "minister" or "rector" was the preferred nomenclature. Certainly not "Father." There was, of course, "Holy Communion" (not referred to as "Eucharist") only once a month, with Morning Prayer the norm on most Sundays. My sense is that the parish at that timereally wanted to identify itself with "Protestant" affiliations, not with"Roman Catholic" ones.

"My memories of the '40s and '50s (from a child's perspective) were that the social structure at Grace was pretty stratified. There were the "parish leaders" who were in large part the Farlow Hill blue bloods, and I think they socialized together, but not necessarily with the whole parish -- although they were the ones likely to be on the Vestry. But there was certainly a large of number of parish families who were ordinary, working class folk, and some who certainly seemed to be economically struggling. I'm thinking of kids in my Sunday School classes, who represented a pretty broad range of circumstances, as I recall.

One thing that was true for all kids: children were to seen and not heard (as my father would say, frequently) - unless they were choir boys. Children had their own chapel services and Sunday School on Sunday morning, and were not really welcomed into the "main" church until after they had been confirmed at age 12 or 13 .Certainly they couldn't take Communion until they were confirmed. Girls wore hats and gloves, at all ages. No female of any age would go into church without a hat on. And certainly sneakers, jeans,or even pants on females were never done. "Big kids" -- only boys -- were acolytes, and I don't think there were missal bearers, or torches. Probably only a crucifer and perhaps flags.

"The [Rector Woodruffe] quote about "the lack of community roots hinder the continuity and effectiveness of the church program" was interesting -- some things perhaps are always thus! I remember the church as being very vibrant, lots of people coming and going, a large Sunday school (overflow classes held in the bowling alley at the Hunnewell Club, now the Pomeroy House, across the street from the Small Hall). There seemed to be lots of parish-wide social events -- square dances, plays put on by the Couples Club, fairs (at least that famous one mentioned in the "History Minute"), men and boys choir, occasional concerts, holiday parties, boy scout troop (thanks to George Larsen, Sally McAlpine's father), etc. The kitchen looked the same then as it does now, and produced church dinners on occasion.

"The big changes in churchmanship and social consciousness came in the '60s under Tom Lehman when many of the uppercrust of Grace's society left to go to Redeemer to escape the changes. From my perspective, things were pretty stable under Bob Woodruffe in the '50s, with the good post-war feeling prevailing in the parish. It was stratified and rigid,I think, but one didn't much question that then -- it's just the way life was. Children always called people by their titles of Mr. or Mrs. I cannot imagine calling my formidable Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Elliott B. Church, anything but Mrs. Church. The story around was that Mrs. Church kept her hat on when she went to bed!" Connie"

Yet this is the era which television remembers as "Happy Days"...and Elvis was about to arrive!  Learn of more changes at Grace Church in the next "History Minute".