Liz Kirchner

The Grace Episcopal Church circa 1900.

Tomorrow, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, Grace Episcopal Church, on the corner of Fourth and Harvey Streets in historic Radford, will commemorate the 125 years since its founding.

The history of the handsome brick church is closely intertwined with the history of Radford itself. Joyce Muldoon, a long-time Grace Episcopal congregant, researched those historic relationships that are evident today in the church’s architecture, gardens and even its congregation.

All stories begin long before they seem to, of course, and the handsome Grace Episcopal, built in 1892, is really built on a foundation of Radford’s civic and economic history. Stories big and small in 19th century America aligned to build this church and weave together city founder, John Radford, his daughters, their husbands, land, mining, railroads, the horrible civil war, the nation’s reconstruction, German stained glass, and bake sales. The story of Grace Episcopal Church is multilayered and compelling.

Muldoon, a member of the church since 1972, has compiled a comprehensive article sourced from the works of several church members, Glencoe, Radford Library, the state library archives.

She documents that the church’s story begins with Warner Kenderdine, down from Philadelphia after the war. He bought the land at 4th and Harvey that had once belonged to Glencoe’s General Wharton, and drew up the plans for the brick English-Gothic church including a arched door, and Gothic arches. He supervised construction, and donated the altar, and by May of 1892, the first service was held.

His daughter Bess was confirmed at the church and dedicated her life to it. As little Grace Episcopal struggled in its early years, Bess martialed women’s groups to raise money to pay for electricity to be installed, keep the lights on, buy altar hangings and choir pews. Radford women organized rummage sales, bake sales, Christmas Bazaars, teas and sold their quilts and other needlework, and interestingly, notes Muldoon, “vanilla, and baking powder and other hard to get supplies.”

“In the early 1900’s, the women of the church were quite active in organizations of the church such as Daughters of the King, Rectors Aid Society, Ladies Chapel Fund Society, Altar or Chancel Guild, and the Women’s Guild,” Muldoon wrote.

Miss Bess would have worked closely with these ladies and most likely remembered the ones who made significant contributions to these fundraisers and who gave their talents for other things such as singing in the choir, playing the organ or piano. She later chose some of them to have memorial stained glass windows.

“The Grace Church houses 14 stained glass panels, a rose window, and three altar panels in the sanctuary that depict the life of Christ. These panels were commissioned in Germany in the ‘30s and produced by Franz Mayer. They are considered priceless today; some are signed by the artist.”

Throughout its history, the church has supported the underserved in Radford.

Ann Walker, Senior Warden, Grace Episcopal Church, writes, “Grace is a small church with a big heart that has a rich history of supporting missions within our own community and beyond.”

The church organizes 12 monthly missions supporting a boys’ home in Covington, hunger, clothing banks, and travels to Belize supported through finances and participation.

“We are presently involved in addressing problems of the homeless here in Radford. Our congregation is warm and welcoming and we embrace the diversity that exists in a community of people who are trying to live out their faith,” Walker wrote.

The Grace Episcopal Church currently with English Gothic style building, handsome brick and bell tower.

This Sunday, more than 100 people will gather for a 10 o’clock communion service in the sanctuary. The Rev. Kris Kramer, a former Grace Church rector, will travel from Florida to be the celebrant. Following the service of communion and thanksgiving, the members and guests will proceed to a festive luncheon at Nesselrod Bed and Breakfast.

“This Sunday represents both an exciting and solemn occasion to acknowledge Grace Church’s founding. Many former parishioners, former priests and present congregants will celebrate in thanksgiving for the life of Grace Church and its history; it is a momentous anniversary.”

Muldoon recommends three books compiled by former parishioners: History Of The Episcopal Church In Radford, Mrs. Betsy Naff Davis, 1992; Grace Episcopal Church: A History Of The Stained Glass Windows Of Grace Episcopal Church, Marles And Rodger Streitmatter, 1976; and Grace Episcopal Church Radford, Va, Russell And Betsy Davis, 2011.

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