History Of Grace Church
St. Helena was a sleepy little village with a population of 1,308 in 1871 when the first mention was made of an Episcopal worship taking place here. We were consecrated as an Episcopal Church on December 12, 1875 when Bishop A.W.D. Wingfield made his first visit andconfirmed fourteen people. These fourteen became the nucleus of an organism that,just a short decade later in 1882,wereable to build a sweet and stunning small stone Sanctuary on the corner of Oak and Spring Streets that still stands today.
During the pioneer years of Grace Church, growth of the community was slow and it took almost 80 years for the town of St.Helena to change significantly. As a small church in a rural area, she served generations of families. There was a strong dedicated group of women who managed many tasks and faithfully put on a huge bazaar each year the benefit of the community and the church. Community events were held at Grace including music programs, potlucks and the very popular Bingo.The wealth of a few carried the church and growth was not an issue. Fellowship was the glue that held it all together as services were held only once a month at most. These were not easy times, including years lacking even mission clergy, but the church carried on faithfully through the good and the hard times for well over half a century.Grace Church became a parish in 1954 with the Rectors Rev. John Bogart, Rev. Zealand -Hutton, and Rev. Richard Tumilty serving between 1958 and 1991, and were able to make significant changes to the physical plant due to the enthusiasm of the members who raised the money with which to build and grow.
The congregation continued to be a living group that enjoyed getting together for fellowship, young and old alike. Youth groups were a staple, and Grace has always put a priority on Christian Education and the spiritual formation of her youth. Vestries were consistently good stewards, seeing that bills were paid and the building well maintained. They did their best to leave a legacy of wise decisions and right action for the welfare and peace of the people.
At the heart of Grace the central focus for us has always been the ritual of the liturgy and the centrality of the people of God gathered weekly to give thanks and pray in Worship. The style of service gave close attention to liturgical detail and solemnity was a priority. During the upheavals of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, gender equality,and other socialchange, the consistent celebration of Sunday Worship and the Eucharist held Grace together.In the 1980’s the wine industry beganto flourish and the city of St.Helena grew both in population and financial stability. Along with wine came a certain sophistication and residents became more suburbanized. There was a constant struggle to raise funds for buying property, building, and supporting a priest full time.During this period a conflict over the church’s calling emerged, and resulted in a great division around how worship should be conducted. Attendance declined, and by 1991 it was time for significant change.The members never lost hope and they endured.
The arrival of the Rev. William McIlmoyl in 1993 was the answer to the prayers of the small and faithful remnant who were hanging on. Father Mac was an energetic, down to earth man, and brought a needed freshness to the congregation. His gifts were many, and all who came to services were affected by his ingenuity and presentation of the gospel. It wasn’t long before all of St. Helena knew of Father Mac, and the church grew.In 1996 we began to emphasize our inclusive welcome to all: in our church, worship and at the altar.The rapid growth of the reputation of Napa Valley wine promoted our small town as a prime destination. Seeing the rise in members and the resources, the leadership knew they had to prepare for the future.
Around the new G.R.A.C.E.acrostic, ministry teams formed, leaders were developed and gifts released. God was transforming lives.In a leap of faith, the parish decided in 1997 to tithe 10% of her income to work beyond the walls of the church purely for outreach. A great energy around the outreach began and produced one miracle after another. Grace was “the little church that could.” We were off and running.Major earthquakes in 1989 led the State to mandate seismic retrofitting of all public buildings. These requirements prompted serious evaluation of Grace’s future needs and growth. On the wings of prayer and after years of planning, we began two very ambitious building programs. The first was the magnificent Bourn Hall, capable of hosting a fellowship event for over two hundred. In addition, we built new offices, a commercial kitchen, library, choir room, nursery, three Atria classrooms for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for our youngest church members, as well as ample space for our Youth Ministry.
The second building program was the seismic retrofit and expansion of our beautiful stone Church, completed in 2008. The project was blessed by having a master stone mason, a stained glass artisan and an experienced project manager in our midst, all of whomwere inspired by the goal to rebuild Grace Church to the look, feel, beauty and integrity of the original little stone church on the corner of Spring and Oak Streets.
Our newest physical addition to Grace Church is the completion of a beautiful new labyrinth, modeled after the circa 1200 A.D. Chartres Cathedral labyrinth, when the labyrinth was recognized as a pathway to experiencing God for everyone. Our Grace labyrinth was dedicated on November 15, 2015 and exists as an open invitation to the public.