A History of Grace Presbyterian Church

November 17, 2019

Introduction:  This history of Grace Presbyterian Church is based upon information taken from a written account of a talk by Martha Spencer in 2007, from newspaper articles preserved in a scrapbook compiled by the church youth group in 2007, and input from Paul Carter and others.  Additional information comes from a group of long-time church members who recently gathered at the Carter’s home under the direction of Will Spokes, who has been hired to help our church determine what kind of pastor we need after Paul Carter retires.  This history doesn’t include all that has happened during the life of the church, but is intended to describe some highlights that have led to the church we have today.  

History:  Around 1950, a group of people who attended Poplar Hill Presbyterian Church started meeting for a Bible study.  This group eventually left Poplar Hill and started meeting on Sundays in the basement of The Mayflower on South Main Street, which operated as a hotel at the time. It became known as Independent Fellowship Group and later as Grace Presbyterian Church (Independent).  Sermons were given by lay preachers, retired missionaries, and other guest speakers.  In April 1952, the congregation called its first pastor, Rev. Edwin S. Walker.  In May 1952, the building at 506 South Main Street was purchased, with plans to renovate the first floor.  Originally a home, the building had been a fraternity house at one time and was being used as apartments when the church purchased it. After renovation of the first floor, services moved from The Mayflower to the new building in July 1952.  The pastor moved into one of the apartments on the second floor.  

Beginning in 1953, Vacation Bible School took place in the summers.  A large number of children attended, with church members driving throughout the county to provide transportation.  For about two weeks in the summers, there were also tent meetings with guest evangelists.  Many people who attended these services became church members.  

Rev. Owen Gumm became the pastor in 1955.  In 1960, a building addition included a sanctuary on the main level with Sunday school rooms and a social hall below.  In 1973, while Rev. Roger Shafer was pastor, Grace became part of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES).   

Rev. Fred McFarland became the pastor in 1976.  In December 1976, a fire caused extensive damage to the sanctuary and the rooms below.  Some church members felt that Grace should close, and they left the church.  Others felt that God was calling them to continue.  With the sanctuary unusable, they held services in the original building. Even in the early 80’s, after the sanctuary had been renovated, there were only about twenty members.  During this time, members volunteered to clean the church each week.  The nearby Mayflower building, temporarily renamed The Royal Host Inn, was being used as a residence for mentally handicapped adults.  Our church had an active ministry to the many residents who came to worship services, a special Sunday School class, and summer backyard suppers.

In 1982, Grace became part of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) when the RPCES merged into the PCA.    

Rev. Paul Carter became the pastor in 1984.  Although the congregation remained small for some years, God began to add new members.  By 1993, enough people were attending that the Carters moved out of the apartment on the second floor of the church so that space could be used as Sunday school rooms and the nursery.  Rev. Tony Nix became the associate pastor in 1997. 

As the church continued to grow, limited space for Sunday School rooms and parking became a problem.  The sanctuary also wasn’t big enough, so two services (8:30 and 11:00) were held each Sunday during the school year.  The building was old, with leaks in the roof, inadequate heating, and plumbing problems.  After much prayer and discussion, it was decided to move.  The church relocated to the current Village Way property in 2011.  Additional fundraising campaigns allowed us to complete the nursery area and later the upstairs Sunday School rooms.  

Rev. Nathan Scholl took Tony’s place as associate pastor in 2011.  After Nathan moved to Charlottesville, Rev. Nat Davidson became our assistant pastor in 2016.  Laura Pearson was also hired in 2016 as the Children’s Ministry Coordinator.

Throughout the years of Grace Presbyterian Church, God’s protection and provision have been consistent.  The preaching and teaching at Grace have remained focused on the truth of the Bible.  Church leaders have been committed to prayer in making decisions about the church.  In response, the people of Grace strive to put God first in their lives.  Our church body celebrates the gifts and talents of its members, and encourages each person to use these gifts for God’s work in our church, in the community, and beyond.  In recent years, we have continued to see an increase in membership.  One blessing has been the broad age range of people at our church.  We currently have a large number of young families, resulting in a very active Sunday school program and nursery.  Many older couples have also joined, some of whom are part of multi-generational families in the congregation.  

As with any church, there have been challenges throughout the years.  The fire was a difficult time of loss, both of the building and of members who then left.  At other times, people left the church because of differences in theology, church policies, or social issues.  Having people move from town has brought times of saying goodbye.  We’ve also experienced the loss of those who have passed away.  In spite of difficulties, God has blessed our church family with numerical growth, unity, and love for each other.  He has used challenges to help us grow in the Lord.

We are confident that God will continue to bless the church as we move forward from Paul and Julie’s fruitful ministry.