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  • Writer's pictureGrace Episcopal Church

Resilient Grace Part III: Depression & Division

By Eleanor Simons

After the pandemic there were still difficult times ahead. The Great Depression and World War II brought hard times to Ocala. There was reduced manpower, shortages, rationing and, for some years, Grace carried on without a rector.

Still, the people of Grace did not give up. In 1920, the church had purchased a lot beside the rectory for a Parish House. During the Great Depression, the people of Grace still felt the need for a Parish House, but money was scarce. The rector, the Rev. Pennington, started collecting pennies and nickels from the children’s Sunday School classes, which he used to buy native limestone rock and have it delivered to the empty lot. The rock pile grew as the years went on, a visual symbol of the Parish House in the planning stages and of the church’s refusal to give up.

In 1943, the rectory was moved to the end of the block to make room for the Parish House, and, in 1948, the Parish House was finally built. By that time, the Rev. Pennington had been gone for over six years and other rectors had come and gone. Twenty-eight years after buying the lot, the church had a Parish House beside it, one built with the limestone purchased with those pennies and nickels collected many years earlier. It was the fruit of over twenty years of faith.

The 1950s began a sustained period of growth for Grace Church. A school was started and proved to be successful. Improvements were made to the church and the first curate was hired. As the membership grew, three services were scheduled. The pews were filled. A new entrance was built using limestone rocks to match the Parish House.

Many years later, the church faced a new challenge. In April of 2008, Grace Church split. The rector and most church staff, including the choir director and choir members left the church. One staff person and Fr. Jonathan, the associate priest, remained. There was no vestry and less than 100 members remaining. Fr. Jonathan prayed about what he would do, then he stepped out in faith and stayed, leading Grace through difficulty back into flourishing.

Now, together, we face another difficult time. This pandemic has closed our church. But, thanks to Fr. Jonathan and the dedicated staff and volunteers, we are able to stay connected by phone, email, Facebook, and YouTube. Even though it is not the same, we are able to worship from home. It is our turn to “Step Out in Faith.” I remember and give thanks for those members that came before us, for their resilience, and for their faithfulness that mean we can worship today as Grace Church. It is my prayer that our faith and resilience will be the same blessing to future generations.

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