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Faith

Grace Episcopal Church in New Lenox turns 150

Grace Episcopal Church in New Lenox is celebrating its sesquicentennial – 150 years of continuous worship as a church in this community.
Grace Episcopal Church in New Lenox is celebrating its sesquicentennial – 150 years of continuous worship as a church in this community.

Grace Episcopal Church in New Lenox is celebrating its sesquicentennial – 150 years of continuous worship as a church in this community.

The official anniversary date is November 22, 2018, but the community will celebrate with a festive gala event on Saturday, November 10 at 6:30 pm at the church.

Grace Church’s iconic prairie gothic sanctuary is the oldest worship space in continual use in New Lenox. It was designed by New York’s Richard Upjohn and completed in 1870, although the congregation had already been worshipping for nearly two years in the original Methodist Church building on Hickory Street (since demolished).

Over the century and a half since, Grace has seen its ups and down, but as a mission congregation it has always been the “little church with the red doors,” a hallmark of Episcopal churches.

Through the years, the congregation has seen familiar New Lenox families with generations in its pews – the Joneses, the Gougars and the Batsons.

For decades in the early 20th century, Grace held a village carnival, and it also operated the wildly successful and popular “Ham Dinners.” Before they came to an end in 1998, the Ham Dinners were a huge fundraiser for the church, featuring famous spiral hams, twice baked potatoes and homemade coleslaw. It was followed with lobster dinners and more recently, BBQs and Italian Nights.

Grace has had 36 official clergy since 1868, when the first priest was shared with the now-closed St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan. The first female priest of Grace was the Rev. Sue Sommer in 2000.

In May of this year, the church installed the Rev. Gregory L. Millikin in May as its Vicar. Millikin, who is openly gay, led the church’s presence at Mokena’s first-ever Pride event this past June, where he spoke out to the crowd reminding them that the Episcopal Church – and Grace in particular – would welcome the opportunity to perform same-sex marriages.

The Episcopal Church officially adopted this inclusive stance in 2015 following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that June. The Episcopal Church has previously made headlines in 2003 with the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, and openly gay and partnered man, to the role of Bishop of New Hampshire.

Though the event on Nov. 10 is free and open to the public, patrons are required to RSVP and receive hard tickets for the occasion.

The gala will include the unveiling of a new archives installation, a signature cocktail entitled “the Amazing Grace,” remarks from the Mayor and presentation of a commemorative proclamation, and a silent auction for fundraising for the church, as it looks to grow into a “parish” of the Episcopal Church in the next year.  

A mission congregation in the Episcopal Church means it relies on supplemental income from its parent diocese (in this case, the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, headquartered at St. James’ Commons and St. James Cathedral in downtown Chicago). Becoming a parish has been a goal of the congregation and of Millikin’s since he took office.

For more information, call 815-485-6596 or visit gracenewlenox.org.

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