Grace United Methodist Church

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Historical Notes about Grace Church Pastoral Leadership

The earliest recorded pastoral leadership for Grace United Methodist Church dates to the years 1871 to 1951. At that time Grace Methodist Church, its original name, was an English speaking church composed mostly of people of Anglo Saxon and Polish ancestry. Ministry in the mostly European-American community was led by the Reverends David L. Marks; Richard Wheatley; George N. Platt; N.O. Lent; William S. Blake; Charles S, Harrower; Thomas Lodge; Albert Stephens; William E. Ketcham; Frank L. Wilson; Fields Hermance; Ezra S. Tipple; Phillip M. Watters; Louis A. Banks; Ezra S. Tipple; Thomas H. Baragwanath; Charles H. Cookman; Christian F. Reisner; Frederick; B. Harris; John L. Davis; Loucie D. Woodmancy; Charles C. Cole; Howard D. McGrath; James A. Brimelow; John B. Everts; and John H. Blacklidge. They served the church until 1949. After a year without a pastor, Rev. Charles A. Melano came in 1951, for a year, and then there was no pastor of the English church from 1952 till 1960 as Anglo and Polish people moved out of the neighborhood.

Puertorrican migration began in New City during late 1940’s and early 1950’s alongside the construction of the Frederick Douglass Houses between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. As Puertorricans began to move into the neighborhood, group of Latino Christian lay leaders began work in the community and meeting in the church building, until the church opened its doors officially in the year 1953 with the official appointment of the Rev. Jorge Rivera, who became the pastor of the newly constituted Grace Methodist Church. Two years before his term ended, in the year 1960, the church received the Rev. Ralph Lord Roy who felt a calling to resume English ministry in the neighborhood. He came to do ministry with the full support of the NY Conference and the Hispanic Church. During these years Grace Church became a headquarters for the Civil Rights movement under the leadership of Rev. Lord Roy. New York civic leaders along with clergy would meet at Grace and this was the location from which buses departed to civil rights marches during the sixties. The Rev. Lord Roy was the pastor from 1960 to 1962 of the English Congregation alongside the Rev. Jorge Rivera. The Rev. Razziel Vazquez, followed Rev. Rivera from 1963 to 1966. There was no English pastor in 1963. During the following years the Hispanic Church, a strong and large congregation at that time, supported the ministry of Grace English Church since the Hispanic Church was already a self-supporting congregation and the African American congregation was in its earlier stages with its membership drawn from people moving into the newly constructed Douglass Houses. There was a series of pastors in the English congregation who came after Rev. Lord Roy’s term, mostly part-time or supply pastors. These were the Rev. Samuel S. Tatem; Rev. Clifford E. Landeum; Rev. E. Wilson, part-time, the Rev. Cain Felder, who served from 1975 to 1976 and the Rev. Robert W. Emerick who served for six years after that.

On the Hispanic side, the Rev. Edmundo G. Morgado, followed Rev. Vazquez as the Senior Pastor from 1967 until 1974. Then the church was served by the Reverends Josue Rosado, Ramon Figueroa, and Pedro Piron, who became the first Hispanic District Superintendent in the NY Conference.

On the morning of Dec. 8th in 1983 the church suffered a major catastrophy when the large cathedral and tower style building was destroyed by fire, making headlines in the city papers.

Both congregations were devastated by the accident but neighborhood churches like the Presbyterian Church on 105th Street and St. Paul and St. Andrew UMC on 86 Street graciously welcomed the ’homeless’ Grace people. Soon after the process to construct a new building began under the sponsorship of the United Methodist City Society. The new church building, now part of two new structures-one of them a 10 story low income housing development - was finished in 1990. By the year 1984 the Rev. Matthew Adams was appointed as the pastor of the English Congregation. The Rev. Jaime Colon came in the year 1991 to the newly inaugurated building and served until his untimely death in 1996. He was followed by the leadership of the Reverends Juan Hernandez and Carmen Ortiz, until the year 2000 as pastors of the Latino congregation. For many years after the fire the Hispanic congregation began to suffer membership decline and loss of revenue.

Many African Americans, then the majority of residents of the neighborhood, joined the church under the ministry of the Rev. Adams who served until the year 2001. During Rev. Adams ministry, the African American congregation became a vibrant and strong church. During his last year, the Rev. Adams served alongside the Rev. Hector Laporta, who was the pastor of the Hispanic congregation for one year. In the year 2002, after the passing of the Rev. Matthew Adams, the English congregation began to decline in its membership; and both congregations were already in membership and financial decline. As the need to bring a new church model into place became evident, the Bishop appointed the Rev. Luisa Martinez as the first pastor of both the English and the Hispanic churches. During her leadership steps to bring both churches closer to each other began. There were joint services held periodically. She served the church for nine years until 2010. In 2011 the Rev Lydia Lebron-Rivera was appointed pastor. Under her leadership, on May of 2014, both churches were merged into one. The church currently worships in both languages, having a regular bilingual service every first Sunday of the month and on Easter Sunday, Pentecost and Christmas. The church is making slow but steady progress in reaching out to its surrounding neighborhood, now more diverse and vibrant than at any time since the church’s origins.