A History of Our Church
February 7, 1875 - Organization of the Christian Church of St. Johnsville on the following basis:
"For our mutual profit in spiritual improvement and greater efficiency in Christian work, we whose names are recorded do mutually agree to constitute ourselves a religious society to be known as the Christian Church of St. Johnsville, New York and that we consent each and all to the following basis of organization
1st We will accept the Bible as our only rule of Christian faith and practice
2nd The New Testament our only book of discipline
3rd Christian character our only test of Christian fellowship
4th The right of private judgement in the interpretation of the Word of God
Standing on this broad basis, no broader than that instituted by our Saviour, governed by such a test, authorized so to do by our Divine Lord.
By their fruits ye shall know them. With hearts to love and hands to labor with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ, we seek the fraternization with all the Zion of God.
Cooperating in the great work of elevating man from the thralldom of sin to holiness of heart and life and happiness, here and in Heaven."
1. Rev. Charles E. Peake
2. Villa Peake (his wife)
3. Martin Williams
4. Harriet Williams
5. J. E. Truman
6. Alice Truman
7. S. C. Knickerbocker
8. Elizabeth Knickerbocker
9. Henry Vedder
10. Betsey Vedder
11. Sarah E. Newberry
12. Asneth Eldred
13. Kate Knickerbocker
Grace Christian Church was first organized in February 1874. Several years previous to this Mr. and Mrs. Martin Williams moved to St. Johnsville from Charleston Four Corners where they had attended the Christian Church of Rural Grove. At first they attended the Reformed Church here.
Early in 1874 a dear friend of Mr. Williams, Reverend Charles A. Peake, came to visit them and during this visit Reverend Loadwick, pastor of the Reformed Church, asked him to fill that pulpit on Sunday. Several people of the Christian faith heard Reverend Peake that Sunday and were so impressed with his personality and preaching that they asked him to remain here in St. Johnsville.
After some discussion six families, including the pastor and his wife, made an agreement to give five hundred dollars each toward the organization of a Christian Church. These pledges were made by Mr. and Mrs. Martin Williams, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bellinger, Mr. and Mrs. Amos Klock, Mr. Henry Sanders, and Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Knickerbocker. So in April 1874 Reverend Peake took up his work here, holding services in the Union Church (now Saint Paul's Lutheran) until their church was ready.
Reverend Peake donated his services for his five hundred dollars. Stephen Knickerbocker gave the lot on which the church stands for his five hundred dollars. All other subscriptions were in cash, and it is to be noted that the work of the Grace Church women had its beginning here - "the women of the church worked diligently and hard to enlarge this fund" -forming mite societies, making Shaker bonnets from tea matting, piecing quilts and having ice cream socials. Using Mrs. Peake's sewing machine, the women made a large "unbleached factory" tent and ice cream sales were held in this on the corner of Main and Kingsbury Avenues where the little brick building, which later housed Dr. Vedder's office, now stands.
The plans for the church were drawn up by Mr. Gordon Hough (grandfather of Gilbert Hough and great grandfather of Wallace Powell). Mr. Nelson Kane acted as architect, directing all the inside work and doing much of it personally. The church was built during the summer of 1875 by John H. Kneeskern and sons, Lester and Alvin, at a cost of eight thousand dollars.
The excavating was done without pay by farmers who came with their teams, and they drew lumber and bricks as well. The beams, rafters and brackets were all turned at Kneeskern Mill. The colored glass was donated by individuals and other churches. Men who were interested in the church worked evenings and holidays and it was by this enthusiastic, cooperative effort that the church was completed in such a short time.
It was ready for dedication on September 29, 1875.
Reverend Warren Hathaway of Blooming Grove, New York, preached the morning dedicatory service and the Reverend Martin Summerbell preached the evening portion. The name Grace was added to distinguish it from other Christian Churches.
It is interesting to note that the names of the building committee, the cost of the church and the names of the thirteen charter members were all cast into the bell which hangs in the tower of the church
The Sunday School had been organized in 1874 and had 125 members. The first superintendent was C. M. Knox whose son Charles Knox won international fame with his Knox Gelatin.
Mr. Williams, whose idea started Grace Church, was founder of the Clark Machine Company which made the Williams Grain Thresher, one of the finest machines of its kind made.
Reverend and Mrs. Peake lived first in the house on the south corner of North Division and Cross Streets. Later they moved to twenty-seven Center Street where they remained until his resignation in 1880.
Reverend Peake met a tragic and untimely death. Upon leaving Saint Johnsville he was journeying to his new pastorate in Rhode Island. His ship was wrecked and he was drowned in Long Island Sound. A memorial service was held for him here where he had been so dearly loved.
His successor was Reverend Scott M. Cook. In 1882 the Ladies Aid was organized with Mrs. Cook as first president. In 1884 a brick parsonage was built to the south of the church at the cost of $5278.47. In 1887 it passed out of our hands, due to inability to keep up payments. This is the present Joseph Green residence.
From then on a house on the corner of Center and Cross Streets was the parsonage until the present one was built by Z. R. Klock, father of Helen Glenar. The exact date doesn't appear in the records but on April 29, 1895, there was a meeting to discuss the building and in April 1896 Mr. Klock noted at an official meeting that thirty-four dollars was still owed to him.
In 1886 Mr. Cook resigned and was succeeded.by Reverend Thomas Taylor. In 1888 he left and Reverend G. A. Carr was called. He died less than a year later.
During Reverend Carr's pastorate a great revival swept town. In 1889 sixty-nine new members were added to the church. Reverend George Morrow, who followed Reverend Carr, enrolled thirty-nine new members and baptized seventy-nine - seventy-six of whom were immersed in the Mohawk River before crowds of from two hundred to five hundred people.
In 1891 Reverend C. E. Watson succeeded Reverend Morrow, followed by Reverend R. L. Amber in 1892 and Reverend H. L. Griffing in 1894.
In 1895 Reverend C. E. Morrell came and he was the first pastor to occupy our present parsonage.
In 1897 Reverend R. G. Palmer became pastor, followed in 1898 by Reverend J. W. Wilson.
In 1899 Reverend G. E. Merrill was called and it was during his pastorate that the church celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. At this service a silver offering was received amounting to one hundred fifty dollars. The church was reported in good financial shape with all debts paid. During Reverend Merrill's pastorate the envelope system was used for the first time and in May 1901 electric lights were installed at the cost of one hundred dollars and the baptistry built for one hundred sixty-five dollars.
Coming in June 1901, the Reverend W. P. Chase served the next four years. In 1902 a new pipe organ was installed at a cost of $1300. An addition was built on the rear of the church and a kitchen added under neath ($467). The choir platform was enlarged and the baptistry built underneath. The old organ was donated to the Caroga Lake chapel.
In 1906 Reverend H. G. Rockwell came and stayed until 1910. In 1907 the church installed a new hot-air furnace - cost one hundred twenty dollars.
In 1911 Reverend Henry W. McCrone accepted our call and remained with us until his death in 1924. Both he and Mrs. McCrone are well remembered for their good works and fine Christian characters.
In 1911 Mrs. McCrone organized the Philathea Class, a women's group which was to be very active in church affairs. On September 25, 1912 the church was incorporated under the name Grace Christian Church and the number of trustees was changed from nine to six
In 1915 the hardwood floor was laid in the auditorium and the platform extended across the entire front. Previous to this, part of the space had been filled with short pews. Ira Peck and Ezra Nellis finished this extension carefully with wood trim to match the rest.
Mr. McCrone left September 1923 due to failing health. His thirteen year pastorate was the longest to date. From then until August 1924 the pulpit was filled by supplies.
In August of 1924 Reverend Ray Seeley came and remained until 1929. In 1925 the church held its Golden Jubilee. Dr. Martin Summerbell who had taken part in the dedication fifty years before preached the Jubilee sermon. This was a record seldom achieved.
During Mr. Seeley's pastorate a two-story addition was made to the rear of the church. The kitchen was enlarged to its present size and a classroom was added at the rear of the chancel at a cost of $1671.70. The Senior Philathea class installed a new electric motor to power the organ. Wallboard was installed in the Sunday School rooms and they were painted a light color. At the Easter service in 1928, the Junior Philathea surprised the congregation by presenting a beautiful white marble baptismal font. It was dedicated at once and a baptismal service followed.
While serving our church Reverend Seeley married Elma Burkdorf (daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Clark Burkdorf, faithful church workers, and sister-in-law of Bertha Burkdorf Flanders). In 1929 Reverend and Mrs Seeley left to accept a pastorate in his native Ohio.
The church then extended a call to Reverend Gardner Underhill. He began his work on September 1, 1929 and served two years until he left on September 1, 1931, to further study.
In 1931 the Christian Church underwent an important change. As a denomination it united with the National Congregational churches, the group to be known as General Council of Congregational Christian Churches in the United States. We then became Grace Congregational Christian Church.
Reverend Albert B. Hotchkiss was our first pastor under this union, coming to us on September 20, 1931, and remaining until October 1, 1943. He was a fine Christian gentleman and an able leader.
In 1936 the first Junior Choir was organized by Mrs. Frank Don. It was composed of members of Sunshine Philatheas, taught by Mrs. Carl Nellis, and the young men's class. After much hard work, black choir robes were bought and paid for by the group.
From October 1943 to September 1944 the church was served by supply pastors. Then on September 6, 1944, Reverend Roland Updyke preached his first sermon as our new pastor. On Palm Sunday, April 14, 1946, the chimes which were the gift of R. R. Rhines in memory of Marion Hines Rhines were dedicated. In 1948 the steeple was rebuilt after much waiting on the contractors. Also in 1948 the movement to join with the Evangelical and Reformed Churches began. It was during this period also that our baptismal tank was last used. Mr. Updyke baptized several young people by immersion.
Mr. and Mrs. Updyke and their entire family contributed generously of their talents during Mr. Updyke's pastorate. Quarterly meetings with covered dish suppers were largely attended and large youth groups were active. In February 1949 Reverend Updyke resigned because of ill health and his resignation was accepted with regret. He preached his farewell service on April 24, 1949.
On May 15, 1949, it was voted to call the Reverend Andrew McAllister and he came in June to begin his pastorate. In May 1950 the new heating system for the church was voted and later installed at a cost of $3438. A new sink and window were added to the kitchen. During this time the 2 F (Friendship and Fellowship) Club was organized. The next twenty-five years were to prove that their fellowship was sincere and worthwhile. They have been active ever since.
Because Reverend McAllister resigned in August 1950, the plans for the 75th anniversary had to be postponed.
In November 1950 Reverend Bertram A. Walton became our pastor. On January 14, 1951, an anniversary (75th) service was held and on January 15, a fellowship supper was held as part of the celebration.
Upon the recommendation of the church conference, the Ladies Aid and the Philathea Class joined in 1953 to become the Society of Congregational Christian Women, which became Women's Fellowship in 1954. They assumed responsibility for the parsonage which the Ladies Aid had previously done and have actively engaged in wholehearted support of the church and its activities.
Mr. and Mrs. Walton were dedicated leaders, and choirs, church activities and youth groups bloomed. In 1958 the new lights, given as memorials, were installed and dedicated. The front of the church was rebuilt in its present form with a divided chancel at a slightly lower level than the two adjacent choir areas. New red carpeting was added and a new lectern was made by Ira Peck and given by Mr. and Mrs. Peck. The lectern parament was given by Mr. and Mrs. James Christman.
In November 1958 the stained glass window given in memory of Anna Nellis by her family and friends was completed and dedicated.
The altar set, given by Rev. and Mrs. Walton, was dedicated in memory of faithful members. New paraments were given in memory of Frank Don by Nellie Don.
Upon Mr. Walton's resignation, Reverend Donald Howard was called March 1959. He served until June 1960.
In April 1959 the church voted to name Revered Walton as Pastor Emeritus.
In November 1960 Reverend L. H. T. Fairbanks became pastor. In May 1962 the church voted favorably on the denominational merger with the United Church of Christ and we became known as Grace Congregational United Church of Christ
In 1962 the altar in the Sunday School room was given by family and friends of Ada Nellis. A new communion set was given by the deacons and dedicated to Ira Peck. The amplifying system was installed in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Chester A. Nellis. New hymnals were purchased in 1964, of which 90 were given by the Youth Fellowship and 25 by individuals as memorials. On April 1, 1965, Reverend Fairbanks resigned to accept a parish in Massachusetts.
The Easter services were conducted in 1965 by our beloved Pastor Emeritus, Bertram Walton. He continued to supply the pulpit and taught Sunday School and released time classes. By dint of bard work and devoted leadership, 1966 ended successfully as we cleared the church of a year's debt of twelve hundred dollars.
In April 1966 the piano given in memory of Janice Christman by her family was dedicated.
The sanctuary was repainted and in May renovation of the church hall began. New ceilings and lights were installed and the vestry was modernized and repainted by the men of the church with the kind help of Stanley Brown. The ladies contributed to this project by serving refreshments regularly. On July 7th a fellowship period was held in the newly redecorated room following morning service.
During October 1967 at the urging of both conferences, discussions of a possible federation with the local Methodist Church were held with representatives of both churches. This proposal was rejected by the congregation.
The church members were deeply shocked as death closed Mr. Walton's distinguished Christian pastorate while he was vacationing in Florida.
On July 7, 1968, the Reverend William E. Gilpin became our new pastor. The church parsonage underwent complete renovation under the sponsorship of the Women's Fellowship and the help of the men.
The church has gone forward yearly. Carpeting was added to the back of the church and vestibule, the gift of Reverend and Mrs. Gilpin and Miss Theresa Elms. New wall paneling, given by a friend, greatly improved the main entrance.
The cushions in the Sunday School room were replaced. An altar background, made by Mrs. James Christman, adorned the needle-work design of the Lord's Supper crocheted by Ila Wright Moore.
Roberta Rowland Raybold, daughter of the organ builder, gave the first concert on the afternoon of the dedication. It was largely attended.
Mrs. Herman Briele began her service as Organist on December 1, 1974.
Altar chairs to match the front wood were given in memory of Carl Nellis by his family. A sixteen millimeter projector was also given by his family and friends.
The outside of the church has been repainted. The stained glass windows have been restored and storm windows added with a bequest of Hattie Russell.
On May 18, 1975, Mrs. Robert Stack and Sally Blatt gave a vocal/organ recital as the first event in our centennial celebration.
On Sunday, September 28, a special service was held commemorating our one hundredth year. A former pastor, the Reverend Gardner Underhill, was guest speaker. Mrs. Nellie Don was honored with a corsage for having the longest record of church membership (1903) and having served as church organist for nearly forty years. Gilbert Hough was honored for having served forty years as church treasurer.
A covered dish family dinner followed the service. Humorous incidents from early records were recalled by Reverend Gilpin, and the early history of the church was given by Mrs. Leslie Rockefeller.
We are enjoying our hundredth anniversary year. We are happy the Reverend and Mrs. Updyke are part of our church family, having chosen to spend their golden years near their son Charles and family. We are honored to have two of our former young people in foreign missions. Susan Allen Clements and her family serve in Mwanza, Tanzania, East Africa, while Reverend Kenneth Updyke and his family minister in Ghana, West Africa.
We praise God for many blessings received through the years. We earnestly pray that we shall be granted many more years of Christian service in our community.
Note: The history of the church was compiled for our Centennial by Mrs. Leslie Rockefeller. Information was gathered from many sources including previous histories, consultations with the pastor, and other church leaders. Many people have offered faithful ministry whose names do not appear in this narrative, and some items of interest also yielded to space considerations. Effort has been made to include such matters in other records, minutes, and files of the church. The publication for this Centennial History was financially supported by a number of contributions.
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