Grace Church History

As early as 1790, what was to become Middletown, NY, was a

loose cluster of houses built up along a strategically located road

used for the transportation of produce to the Hudson River. In

1841, the Erie Railroad was completed allowing Middletown to

become a large shipping center. Middletown continued to be a

transportation hub for over a century with the last train passing

through Middletown in April, 1983.


Prior to 1845, there were no Episcopal services in Middletown.

Episcopal parishes existed in several nearby communities:

Newburgh, Walden and Goshen. It was primarily due to the

efforts of Elisha Wheeler, a prominent businessman, that Grace

Episcopal Church, Middletown, was created. He was a signer of

the Act of Incorporation and was the first Junior Warden. He

subsequently became the Senior Warden, a position he held until

his death in 1876.


The Grace Episcopal Church parish was incorporated on

February 18, 1845. Services were initially held on Sunday

afternoons in other local churches. Property was purchased later

that year on the corner of North and Depot streets and the

church building was constructed in the Gothic Revival style

between 1846-47. The first church service was held in the new

building on December 24, 1847 and the building was

consecrated by Bishop William H Delancey of the Diocese of

Western New York on September 12, 1848. The first rector was

the Reverend G.W. Timlow. The Reverend Alexander Capron

was the fourth rector; the side altar in the current space is

dedicated in his memory.


During the tenure of subsequent rectors, several alterations were

made to the church space. The gallery in the church was

removed and the chancel was moved further to the rear to add

more pew space. A large and better organ was purchase inDecember, 1863. An additional lot was purchased in July, 1864

and a small addition was built onto the church to accommodate

more pews. The north transept was built in 1866 and the south

transept in 1868 with funds donated by Elisha Wheeler.

Between 1868 and 1882, the wooden steeple was removed and

replaced by a stone steeple.


Liturgically, Grace Episcopal Church celebrated Morning Prayer

on a weekly basis. In addition to the Rector, the church was able

to support the services of an Organist and had an active men and

boy’s choir which sang during the services.


Grace Episcopal Church continued to grow and change

throughout the end of the 1800’s and into the 1900’s. In May

1912 the excavation for the foundation of the new parish house

was begun. The cornerstone was laid in September, 1912 and

the building, which is still in use, was completed in January,

1913. In 1920, the parish paid off the mortgage on the church.

The first rectory, located at 36 Highland Avenue, was purchased

in 1920.


Over the years, as Grace Episcopal Church grew and changed,

as did Middletown. Initially incorporated as a village in 1848;

Middletown was granted a city charter in 1888. In subsequent

years, many community service programs and institutions were



Grace Church continued to play an active role in the day to day

life of the City of Middletown. This role became even more

prominent during the tenure of the 17th rector, the Reverend

Joseph P. Matthews (1959-1979). Father Matthews made

changes in the celebration of church services. He moved the

church from a predominantly Morning Prayer parish to a more

Anglo-Catholic parish, with the Eucharist celebrated weekly at

two separate Sunday services. During Father Matthews’ tenure,

a new organ was purchased, the basement of the parish house was refurbished to house a Church School and the church space

was redesigned with the movement of the altar away from the

rear wall. The current rectory, located at 17 Crescent Place, was

purchased during Father Matthews’ time. Father Matthews was

politically active supporting the peace movement and protesting

the Vietnam War. Later he was an early supporter of women’s

rights and of the ordination of women to the priesthood. This

outward focus found an expression at Grace with the early

inception of the Guild of St Margaret, an outreach program to

feed the hungry in the community with vouchers given for a free

meal at a local restaurant.


Several other milestones for the church occurred under Father

Matthews’ leadership. In 1961 women were first elected to

Grace Church’s Vestry, as a result of a new nationwide church

ruling permitting the seating of women on parish governing

bodies. In 1975, Grace Church purchased a vacant lot (vacated

as the result of a fire) adjacent to the church property on the

corner of North and Depot Streets. This churchyard is used for

various parish activities.


The Reverend John A Osgood became the 18th rector of Grace

Church in 1979, and remained at Grace until 1996. Father

Osgood continued the movement of Grace Church toward a

more Anglo-Catholic (“high church”) celebration of the Eucharist,

introducing the use of bells and incense during the liturgy. Lay

ministry was encouraged and grew during this period. In his first

sermon, Father Osgood emphasized the connection between the

altar and the hungry. The number of individuals coming to the

church seeking a meal voucher increased significantly, so that

this was no longer a practical option. As an alternative, the

parish secretary began making and distributing sandwiches from

the parish house with the help of a few volunteers. The need

increased, and in 1981, the Guild of St Margaret Soup Kitchen

formally began to provide a daily meal for anyone coming to eat.

This program has continued since opening, even during theCovid 19 pandemic. At that time the program provided a bagged

hot lunch and cold meal from a space outside of the parish

house. The Guild resumed serving meals inside in May, 2022.


Over the years, Grace Church as been involved in a number of

community outreach programs designed to meet the needs of

marginalized people in the community. Grace sponsored the

RENT Program (Relief from Eviction for Needy Tenants).

Volunteers from Grace Church and other local congregations

helped open and operate the Emergency Housing Center (now

HONORehg) which opened in 1982 on the grounds of the

Middletown Psychiatric Center. Volunteers from Grace were also

involved in the opening of the Alcohol Crisis Unit, an emergency

detox program, as a component of Emergency Housing, and of

the opening of A Friend’s House, a shelter program for runaway



Grace Church took the lead with the clergy and parishioners from

several local churches to reach out to individuals in the

community suffering from HIV/AIDS. This outreach included

teams of individuals who visited patients in their homes, assisted

with medical appointments or other needs, an HIV/AIDS day

program providing a place for individuals to meet and get

support and a weekly healing service.


In 2009, Grace Church joined with other members of the Greater

Middletown Interfaith Council to help sponsor the Warming

Station, which is open during the coldest months of the year

(mid-November to mid-April) to provide shelter for people who

would otherwise spend their nights in the cold.


Father John Warfel became the 19th rector of Grace Church in

March, 1998. Father John continued to build upon the parish’s

Anglo-Catholic tradition, introducing a sung liturgy. Father Warfel

also began a monthly Children’s service during the 10 am mass.

in which children were encouraged to serve on the altar and toserve as lectors and as the intercessor. The service included a

special sermon designed to involve the children. As an openly

gay clergy person, Father John worked with the parish to ensure

that it welcomed all people regardless of race, gender, sexual

orientation, political views, etc..


The work of the Guild of. St Margaret continued under Father

John. He was an active member of the Greater Middletown

Interfaith Council. As a result of this membership, Grace Church

became the host of the annual Good Friday Three Hour Interfaith

Service. He also served as a member of the Business

Improvement District. Father John also took an active role in

Diocesan affairs serving on the Standing Committee. Father

John left Grace Church at the end of December, 2015.


The Reverend Victor Sarrazin became the 20th rector of Grace

Church in June, 2018. Father Victor has continued to support

Grace Church’s operation of the Guild of St Margaret Soup

Kitchen, which was expanded to include a “choice” Food Pantry

in 2023, and the work of the Greater Middletown Interfaith

Council in the Middletown community. He has maintained

Grace’s orientation as an Anglo-Catholic parish and continues to

support our mission to welcome all people to worship. Father

Sarrazin is currently the president of the Greater Middletown

Interfaith council.


Following guidelines from the Episcopal Diocese of New York,

Grace Episcopal Church services were severely curtailed as a

result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, the parish moved to a

once a week online service. In July, 2020, Grace reopened for in-

person services while requiring masks and following social

distancing guidelines. Our first video broadcast was on Easter

2020. As the pandemic abated, services returned to some pre-

pandemic normalcy, with a full altar party, the use of incense,

communion of both bread and wine, and the return of a part time

choir. Two lasting effects are the continuation of a single Sundayservice, alternating on a weekly basis between Rite I and Rite II,

and the continuation of an online broadcast of the service. In

addition to the Sunday service, Grace has also resumed its

weekly Wednesday morning healing service.


Grace Church continues to be open to a diverse church family

and welcomes all who wish to worship with us.