Resilient Grace Part I: Through Civil War & Reconstruction
By Eleanor Simons
Grace Church is a beautiful and historic building with incredible stained-glass windows. But it is not the lovely building that makes Grace Church what it is. After studying the history of Grace Church for the last few years, I have learned that it is the members who came before me and their efforts and faith that make it possible for me to worship here today.
The founding members of Grace Church started meeting in 1849, and they made a list of the first pioneer families that gathered for worship. Reading that list, I have wondered what brought them together. Those were difficult times. There were no missionaries, travel was challenging and distances from plantations to town were far. Transportation was by horse and buggy, on horseback, or on foot. In later years, there were only occasional visits by missionaries. There were no church buildings to worship in and they had to meet in homes. These first members of Grace Church had to have been strong Christians.
Early on, brought together by their faith only, they met using the Book of Common Prayer. These optimistic pioneer families did their best and finally were able to formally establish a parish in 1853. The next 27 years would be incredibly difficult as war was on the horizon.
With the Civil War moving south, life changed dramatically. Men went to war; women and slaves worked the farms. Throughout the area, the schools were closed and so were the churches. Grace was no exception: services were suspended, except for a few services in 1862 and 1863 in an effort to keep the church alive. It was not until 1866 that services resumed and Grace was reinstated in the diocese.
After the war was over, slaves were free, and there was no one to work in the fields or harvest the crops. The aftermath of the war brought despair and economic ruin to Ocala. The missionary who had been visiting, Rev. Quimby, could no longer be paid. He continued to come anyway and kept the small flame that was Grace Church alive. It was not until 1880 that better times began.
The tenacity, endurance and faith of these Episcopal families must have been strong. They endured through lean times, a war, and an upheaval to their way of life. As things slowly improved they started a building fund in 1875 and supported a missionary who would come to Ocala on a regular basis. In 1880 they built a simple church in downtown Ocala. After 31 long years, they finally had a church for worship.