From its tiny beginning in 1954, as a “Church by Mail”
Sunday school in Bob and Margaret Jenison’s living room,
the Grace Church congregation has met regularly. Under the
leadership of its faithful lay readers and the women of Grace
Guild, it met first in Hetzler’s Lopez Inn, then in the Landmark
Center Church where the oil lamps were filled and raised to
the ceiling each week, and the fire in the stove stoked early in
the day to be warm in time for church.
The group chose the name “Grace Church” in 1955 and
the first service was held at Lopez Inn on March 17th of that
year with the Rev. Ted Leche officiating. In 1956 the Rev.
Glion Thomas Benson was appointed as Vicar of the San Juan
Islands Missions. He conducted Sunday morning services on
Orcas, traveled in his boat to Lopez for afternoon services at
Grace, followed by evening services in Friday Harbor on San
Juan Island. For a period in the 1960s, the congregation met
in Russell Knight’s unoccupied farm. When land was donated
on Humphrey Head by Mr. and Mrs. Ray Spencer, Fr. Benson
inspired the congregation to action. He motivated the small
congregation to build Grace Church on the donated land and
labored along with the contractor and the congregation to
build the church.
Services were first held in the new church building on
December 22, 1968 with Fr. Leche and Fr. Benson officiating.
The parish hall addition, Benson Hall, was finished in 1972.
The altar, carved and built by an Orcas Island artisan, was
dedicated July 8, 1973, and Bishop Robert H. Cochrane
officially dedicated Grace Church on March 10, 1977.
Grace Church became an independent mission station on
January 1, 1984, and the advent of the Rev. John Lockerby as
half-time resident vicar on June 1, 1984, gave the congregation
needed stability and hope. The congregation has a core of
residents along with a group of faithful weekenders and summer
people. Grace church was accepted as a mission in union with
diocesan convention on November 7, 1986. As the congregation
grew, Fr. Lockerby and others began to envision a new Church
in Lopez Village which would move the church into a more
visible and public ministry in the heart of the community. This
vision became a reality on the afternoon of September 22, 1997
as clergy – including most of the former vicars of Grace Church
– and members of the congregation gathered on a hillside to
hold a ground breaking service for a new church building.
Bishop Vincent W. Warner invoked a blessing and turned the
first spade full of earth. Located on a gently sloping hill above
the village, the building features a bell tower and clerestory
windows made by local artists and originally installed in the
old church. The congregation held the inaugural service in the
building in November 1998 and Bishop Warner dedicated the
church along with its newly constructed parish hall in June 1999.
The new facilities have allowed Grace Church to deepen
its relationships with those of other faiths and with other
organizations on the island by being able to offer space as well
as friendship.
Since moving, average attendance at Sunday services has
doubled and lay participation is high. There is a growing
children’s program and outreach projects include a community
food bank, assistance to the Family Resource Center and
Hospice of Lopez as well as projects in Central America.
Individual members are generous in supporting charities of
The Episcopal Church and the diocese.