In 1865, 12 men gathered together, one a pastor, and gave birth to a vision for Grace Methodist Church! Grace branched off amicably from St. Paul's Methodist Church, which was then in the city, and began as a mission outpost in Wilmington for Sunday Schools.
Educating women and children, helping them to learn to read, is at the heart of our DNA. The leaders of this start-up saw it as a calling and, along with those who caught the vision, pursued it with relentless passion.
At its inception, this church's reason for being stood out in this city. It was a timely mission and was instrumental in sharing a gospel of love and compassion that helped the people of Wilmington succeed in their daily endeavors. Lives were touched and improved, transformed, one might even say, as the founders of Grace Church made a conscious and godly decision to stand out in this city as a major player.
Over the generations, the church stopped its outpost Sunday Schools and the center of much of its educational ministry shifted to the church building at 9th and West Streets. As it did, slowly but surely, it lost its educational mission to the city, the reason upon which it was founded, and began to educate primarily those who walked through its doors. This proved to be a great success for many, many years and was used as a tool to invite new people to Grace Church. And the church continued to stand out in the city -- as a place to discuss the social issues of the day in an environment that was conducive to learning!
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a noticable decline in the willingness of people within the church to participate in this sort of education venture. Attendance in these began to dwindle. By the beginning of the 21st century, this style of education was almost non-existent with only a small group or two in place. For a church like Grace, which has education at the heart of our DNA, this felt devastating. No longer did it feel as if the church was on the cutting edge, as if it was born to stand out! It seemed as if it simply fit in with all the other churches in the city, one of many.
As the numbers in our Sunday morning attendance have continued to decline, it is easy to lament the changes that have taken place since Grace's spectacular beginnings. Yet if we return to our roots, to the heart of our DNA, if we remember that this church was born not to fit in but to stand out, I believe that we can recapture the God-given vision of those who started Grace, invest ourselves in it, and sing songs of celebration and joy instead of songs of lament.
Just as Grace began outpost Sunday Schools in order to help women and children learn to read, doesn't it follow that we need to be out there in the city, working with those who are in the business of educating the children of our city? Isn't that what our relationship with Stubbs Academy (Elementary) is all about? Aren't we trying to be agents of change through educating children as we partner with Stubbs? Mr. Brown and the staff/teachers of Stubbs have welcomed us into the school with open arms - as the Church!! They know who we are and are happy we are in the adventure with them! Isn't it a good thing to give of ourselves to the children of this city, to build relationships with them, to participate in their education, so that they can become what they dream of becoming? So that they can know they are God's beloved children? This church was born to stand out in educating the children of this city! What is your role in this? What is God calling you to do?
Beyond our relationship with Stubbs, people like Paul Miller are working with other areas of education. Talk with him about the Delaware Design-Lab High School opening a few blocks away from Grace Church in 2015. Youth of our city will have the chance to attend this innovative school! It's another way in which we can be involved in educating the youth of our city!
With the closing of our preschool after 50 years, there is talk of starting a new learning center in Grace Church for preschoolers that would utilize storytelling, other arts, and technology. There has been conversation with Stubbs that it might be a starting place to help prepare those children who would feed into the school as well as for children in the church family and of those working downtown.
God did not call Grace Church to fit in the city; God called Grace Church to stand out in it! Standing out out takes prayer and purpose and passion and participation! This church was started with these! And from its beginnings, it stood out!