Grace is a very historic church. In 1815, the Rev. George Wise became the first German Reformed missionary to Ohio. He returned in 1816 and organized a new congregation of twenty members called St. John’s German Reformed church. The church began to worship in one of Lancaster’s first school houses at 317 S. Columbus St. In 1832, they purchased the property and continued to use it for church purposes.
In 1838, the Ohio Synod of the German Reformed denomination met at St. John’s Lancaster and organized a charge of five congregations in the area including St. John’s. At this time, the Rev. Henry Williard became the pastor of St. John’s.
Rev. Williard served six years before moving to a call in Xenia, Ohio. Rev. Jesse Steiner became St. John’s next pastor. In 1845, under his guidance the congregation began construction on a new church building located on Chestnut Street in Lancaster. During this phase of construction only the ground floor was completed.
The Lancaster Classis (association of Reformed churches in a geographical area) reorganized in 1846. At this time, Rev. Steiner accepted a new call and Rev. Jeremiah H. Good began to serve St. John’s. On June 26, 1847, two members, John and Mary Geisy, deeded the land on Chestnut Street to the church trustees, Isaac Kuntz, Emanuel Giesy and Abraham Grandleonard, for $1.
Neither Rev. Good, who remained for three years, nor Rev. William Brinkerhoff, pastor from 1850-1852, furthered construction on the Chestnut Street church. However, in 1852, Rev. John Rike helped the congregation complete the second floor Sanctuary. It was built according to the Akron plan. Rev. Rike died suddenly in August 1852.
St. John’s next pastor was a Swiss immigrant, Rev. P.D. Schory. He helped put the finishing details on the addition. The new Sanctuary included special stained glass windows imported from Europe. The membership during Rev. Schory’s pastorate was 205.
Rev. G.B. Meckling was called as St. John’s next pastor in 1861, but only remained in the position for one year. 1861 also saw the beginning of the Civil War. It caused many problems for St. John’s. Every official adult male member enlisted in the Union Army. There are no records which detail how many of the church’s men died in the war against slavery.
During these tumoltuous years, the church was led by the women of the congregation, in particular, Mrs. Hood, Mrs. Crutchey and Mrs. Giesy. They arranged for the church to become a mission church operated by the Lancaster Classis (the church functioned as such for three years). As a classis church, the congregation was pastored by Rev. Milton Hockman for two years and Rev. J.I. Swander who served for sixteen months. He was followed by Rev. F. Strausner who conducted services in both English and German.
From 1867 to 1872, St. John’s (also called the First German Reformed Church) was used as the Fairfield County Court House. The trustees leased the building to County for three years at $305 per year. They also retained the right to use the buildings for services on Sunday and when court was not in session. This arrangement lasted for three years until the new courthouse was completed.
In 1872, the church hired a new minister, Rev. William A. Hale. He served six years during which time many new people became members and the church grew to a membership of 225. During his tenure, the name of the church was changed from St. John’s to Grace Reformed.
The next several pastors stayed for only brief periods of time. They included Rev. H. Spangler, Rev. J.M. Kendig and Rev. Scott Hershey. In 1884, Rev. G.W.H. Smith began to serve Grace. He suggested the Chestnut St. building be remodeled. Rev. Smith’s pastorate ended when the Lancaster Classis asked him to resign.
October 25-31, 1887, the 64th Annual Session of the Ohio Synod of the Reformed Church held the 1st Annual Session of the Women’s Synodic Missionary Society at Grace Church. This seven day Session brought people from all over the state to Grace.
For the next thirty-six years, Grace was served by ten pastors: Rev. W.C.B. Shullenberger, Rev. A.C. Derr, Rev. S.E. Snepp, Rev. J.J. Leberman, Rev. W.H. Tussing, Rev. Wallace W. Foust, Rev. Charles Bushong, Rev. Earl Engle, Rev. Ralph Harrity (during whose pastorate weekly bulletins and monthly newsletters began to be published) and Rev. Rev. E. Dweitt Ewing. Rev. Ewing died tragically in 1930 in a car accident while driving to Dayton to the Central Theological Seminary of Christian Education. Two female members of the church who were traveling with him survived with only minor injuries.
Rev. Charles G. Beaver arrived in December of 1930 and served until 1949. He witnesses several significant events in Grace’s history. On June 26, 1934, the German Reformed Church of America and the Evangelical Synod of North America joined together to form one denomination. The congregation thereby officially became Grace Evangelical and Reformed Church. The church was part of the new Southwest Ohio Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed denomination.
In 1941, four new classrooms were built onto the front of the existing building and a new Colonial style facade was completed. During this time, a new Hillgreen and Lane pipe organ was added, the heating system was replaced and the exterior and interior of the building were redecorated. On September 28, 1941 a rededication service was held. The membership in September 1941 was 425. Two years later, in September 1943, the membership was 455.
In March 1949, Rev. Harry G. Yaggi became Grace’s pastor. He served for 21 years. In 1950, the Sanctuary of the Chestnut Street building was changed to become altar-centered. The building was also overflowing with people. Chairs had to be set in the Narthex and often the aisles to accommodate those attending Sunday worship. Space was also a problem during Sunday School. Therefore, in 1953, a former boarding house immediately east of the church was purchased to house the Christian Education program. The adjacent Jurgensmeier property also also used for Sunday School. In 1958, the church purchased the Hettinger House at 143 Chestnut Street and it was also converted for use as Sunday School classrooms.
In the early 1960s, it became obvious that a new building would be soon needed. Along with the space issues, the Chestnut Street building was more than a century old and worn with age. A survey of the congregation found the majority of church members resided in the north and east sections of the city. Rev. Yaggi located property at the corner of Pleasantville Road and Wheeling Road NE. These 10 acres were owned by Richard and Viola VanGundy, longtime members of Grace. Following a congregational vote in September of 1962, the property was purchased.
Grace’s last service in the Chestnut Street building was held December 8, 1968. The following Sunday, worship was held in the new building although it was not officially dedicated until April 13, 1969. A year later, Rev. Yaggi retired.
Rev. John E. Kingsbury became the next pastor of Grace church September 1, 1970. Two years later, under Mrs. Kingsbury’s leadership, Creative Corners Preschool was established. The Preschool closed in 2009. Rev. Kingsbury served for sixteen years.
On November 1, 1987, Rev. Robert Tussing was installed as pastor. He led the congregation through a considerable constitutional change in 1989 which restructured the governance of the church. Rev. Tussing served Grace until 2006.
On February 10, 2008, Rev. Ruth Farrell was called to be Grace’s thirty-first pastor. Rev. Farrell served until Oct 2012.
From November 2012 through August 2014, we were served by Rev. Dennis Sparks as our intentional interim who led the congregation through a process of preparing for the future and challenging the congregation to determine its core values and its place in the community. He challenged the congregation to work at discerning God’s plan for Grace United Church of Christ in the 21st century.
On September 14, 2014, Rev. Mindy Quellhorst began her ministry at Grace UCC. We look forward to exciting and grace-filled times as approach the 200th anniversary of the founding of Grace UCC.
Grace has many historical documents which are available for historians and genealogists to use in their research. Please contact us for more information.