In 1829, the people of Providence were moving beyond the East Side, to west of the Providence River, which was little more than a wilderness. With an increasing population and expanding economy, some of the parishioners of St. John’s Episcopal Church on the East Side petitioned their rector, the Rev. Nathan Crocker, for permission to start a new Episcopal church in the fast-growing west section of town. The Rev. Crocker gave his consent, but it must have taken considerable courage on his part for it meant that 25 of his 180 parishioners would leave.
The young, new parish had little money and needed a priest to lead it and a place to worship. The parishioners managed to buy the old Providence Theatre, on the site Grace Church occupies today. The building was purchased and remodeled for $6,000 —a large sum in those days.
They experienced great difficulty in finding a rector at a salary of $1,000 per year, but in October 1832, the Rev. John A. Clark of New York accepted the position. Under his leadership, the parish grew during the next three years to more than 260 communicants.
In 1844 the building became unsafe for the congregation, and a new building was needed. Grace Church hired the foremost architect of the time, Richard Upjohn, to design a beautiful new building. The first asymmetrical Gothic Revival Church in America was completed in 1846. As a result, Grace Church grew from a very shaky and humble beginning in a small town, to a parish that held an auspicious and exalted place in the very heart of the city.
That presence continued into the 20th Century and beyond. As Grace Church maintained a significant presence in Providence. In 1912, a new (and current) chancel opened that was designed by renowned architect Ralph Adams Cram. That addition made Grace Church the only Upjohn-Cram church in the world.
At mid-century, change accelerated as many parishioners left the city to live in the suburbs. In the past decade as Providence has experienced a renaissance, so has Grace Church. The parish is one of a handful of churches in the Diocese of Rhode Island that has experienced the excitement of growth and the powerful changes that come with it. By 2006 and into 2007, that growth helped put Grace Church in a wonderful position to welcome the members of the Church of the Messiah.
The two parishes successfully joined together and today, Grace Church has a dedicated group of spirit-filled people excited at the prospect of living out the parish’s mission together:
“To build by the grace of God, a loving and joyful community which lives the Gospel through worship, proclamation and service to each other and to downtown.”