Looking at local churches: Grace Episcopal Church


Photo by Rachel House

Nestled on the corner between Plymouth and Hall streets lies Grace Episcopal Church, a body of Christian believers Calvin junior Rachel House values for its “quiet and its community.” House, who recently started attending Grace Episcopal Church this past June, identified the church building as “very traditionally church-like: steeple, stone facades punctuated by colorful windows and tendrils of ivy crawling up the walls.”

Inside, the building reveals stained glass windows and other works of art: “My favorite thing inside Grace is the mural on the wall behind the organ; it illustrates saints and sinners, the canonized and the common, all in a garden at the feet of the risen Christ,” said House. This peaceful sanctuary is about a fifteen-minute drive from Calvin, and while the church does not currently offer organized rides to the services, “there’s a good number of young adults with cars that carpool or would be willing to carpool.”

Grace offers a variety of programming and discipleship training for people of all age groups, including a welcoming environment for college students — “we have the highest number of young adults in the whole Grand Rapids diocese!” House said. To make college students feel at home, Grace offers a young adults group every other Monday evening and provides lunch for young adults following the 10 a.m. service. In addition, other primary outreach ministries include Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN), poverty relief programs and early childhood.

The worship at Grace follows a traditional liturgy in which communion occurs weekly as the central event of the service. The music is also traditional and consists of hymns led by choir and organ. “The worship is intensely simple: never showy, ever bare and refreshing. We sing our prayers and kneel in confession,” said House. “As a lover of intense, fast-paced, charismatic worship, this very old style of worship is very new for me. However, Grace’s worship has proven a centering and re-aligning exercise that refocuses my person on God’s divine simplicity.”

Sermons at Grace are delivered by Father Holmgren, who has an undergraduate degree in art history and a PhD in philosophical theology from Oxford. House described the sermons as “heady, but with heart … [they are] theoretical while remaining grounded in exegesis and application.”

The body of believers who attend Grace Episcopal Church are few but proud. House said, “There are not many Episcopalians around, and the Grace-goers take pride in carrying on the Episcopalian tradition.” The congregation consists of people from a diverse range of ages, and while racial diversity is not one of Grace’s defining characteristics, it is present.  “As I have only attended for a couple months, I can’t claim intimate knowledge of the whole congregation,” House conceded, “But for the people I have the privilege of knowing, I can safely say they are kind, quirky, wise and vulnerable.”

While Grace has many admirable qualities, like all churches, it has room for improvement. “Grace is great at the programmed, but I have yet to see a desire for the serendipitous,” said House. Another area for improvement is Grace’s hesitancy to openly acknowledge and receive the Holy Spirit at work.

House said that she would recommend Grace to other Calvin students: “If you are looking for a spot to jam out to some rockin’ music on Sunday morning, Grace would not be your cup of tea. If you don’t want to spend your Monday nights discussing On Being podcasts at young adult group before evening prayer, don’t come. However, if you are in need of a reflective, soulful, simple church, Grace is a good place to actively delight in tradition without entrenching in the past.”