Last week we noted that for Mothers' Day, May 13, Barbara Stock is donating altar flowers in honor of the many years of social action projects accomplished by Grace Church women of the Church Service League...also called "the Tuesday Morning Group". As we began to discover last week, the history of the Church Service League offers some surprises.
The Grace Yearbook for 1918-19 described the "Social Service Department (civic work)" of Grace Church including: Church Welfare Organizations, the Missionary Department, Nation & World, Girls Friendly Society, Choir Helpers, Mothers' Club, Women's Choir, and Church Periodical Club (ordered magazine subscriptions for overseas missionaries, and missionaries to the Indians in the Western U.S.). In 1919, a year after the end of WWI, Bishop William Lawrence asked that all parishes within the diocese reorganize their outreach efforts into chapters of a new movement within the national church: the "Church Service League". Thus, by 1920, the "Ladies Missionary Society" had evolved into the new "Grace Church Chapter of the Church Service League", the business meetings of which were changed to the first Tuesday morning of each month. From 1855 to 1921, the women had saved almost $50,000 (deposited in the Endowment) "the interest of which will be used to give missionaries on furlough the sort of rest and recreation which they most need". From the 1920's until the 1960's, some of the activities were undertaken in cooperation with the "Newton Federation of Women's Church Activities", which had six member churches: Eliot Church (Congregational); Grace Church (Episcopal); Immanuel Church (Baptist...located across from Eliot, now the Newton Corner Worship Center); Channing Church (Unitarian...now in West Newton); Methodist Church (in Auburndale); and North Congregational. This group of churches often was referred to as "The Federation".
By the 1930's, Grace's "Church Service League" had increased to well over 100 active members. The (all-female) "Day Group" of the Church Service League met on Tuesdays, with its work including sewing (for missionaries plus clothing for the rector's wife and daughters), surgical dressings for hospitals, a Work Room Luncheon, Missionary Department (had speakers and distributed funds), Church Home Society, United Thank Offering (ecumenical with The Federation), Church Periodical Club, Choir Mothers, and College Secretary (church newsletters for Grace's young adults away at college). The "Evening Group" of the Church Service League did sewing, knitting, and tray painting; the Evening Group also included men, who helped the women with hospitality (visiting and delivering altar flowers to shut-ins), as well as arranging for a series of speakers, and organizing committees for the annual Church Fair. On the third Wednesday afternoon of the month, the Day and Evening Groups met for a business meeting during which work agendas were planned, "...and to hear of our mission work throughout the world". By the 1950's, CSL names included Mrs. Elliott B. Church, Miss Mabel Riley, and Bernice and Charlie Olton; 25 all-day sewing meetings could attract up to 45 participants. In 1963 the Day Group (18 members) was led by Mary Perkins, and the Evening Group (45 members) by Jean Crosby and Libby Gerlach "...to carry on with the missionary assignments sent to us from the Church's Headquarters at 1 Joy Street". Isabel Coleman was the sole cross-over member of both the CSL Day Group and the new "Monday Morning Group" of women.
By Thanksgiving, 1959, the new rector, Tom Lehman had arrived. Before long, the "Evening Group" of the CSL had morphed into the new "Social Action Committee" of men and women. In May 1960, the Diocese changed the name "Church Service League" to "Episcopal Church Women" (ECW), in response to a request from the Triennial meeting of the women of the diocese. ECW lives on; a recent President was Elizabeth Murray of St. Paul's in Newton. Several parishes, Grace included, continued to use the name "Church Service League". From 1969-2009, Grace's Church Service League was ably led by Ida Ellsbree whose 40 years of leadership were the longest tenure within Grace Church.
"When did our 'Tuesday Morning Group' begin?": in 1855 in Mrs. Perry's parlor. Over the years, these socially-active women have been called the " Ladies Sewing Circle", the "Ladies Missionary Society", and since 1920, the "Church Service League". Their continuing direct descendants are the "Social Action Committee" and the "Women of Grace".
Don Kennedy, Parish Historian
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