Our History

History of Our Parish

On March 26, 2006, Grace Church, Scranton celebrated God’s grace extended to the parish for 125 years. It was less than eight years after the founding of the Reformed Episcopal Church on December 2, 1873 that a worship service, led by the Rev. G. Albert Redles, was held in the Scranton YMCA, 414 Lackawanna Avenue. On March 3, 1881, with Bishop William R. Nicholson presiding, Grace Church, Scranton was organized in the Meeting House of the Second Presbyterian Church. Mr. Redles was called as the first rector and nine vestrymen were elected. From March 27 to December 18, 1881, meetings of the new Reformed Episcopal parish were held in the Scranton Rowing Association rooms, 421 Lackawanna Avenue.

In June of 1881, property was purchased at 300 Wyoming Avenue for $7000.00. A gift from Miss Harriet Benson of Philadelphia, as well as contributions from New York and local businessmen, was the impetus for the building fund of the small membership.

The first service in the new church building was held on December 23, 1881 with 44 church members and a Sunday school of 17 members and 3 teachers. By March of 1886, when Mr. Redles resigned, church membership had grown to 85 with 164 attending Sunday school.

The Rev. D. M. Stearns of Boston, a gifted Bible preacher and teacher, became the second rector. During his six-year pastorate, the church reached a maximum membership of 287 with 309 in Sunday school. He was succeeded by the Revs. Alfred K. Bates, George S. Aldrich, Charles W. King, and Robert G. Moffitt. During Mr. Moffitt’s pastorate, the church property on Wyoming Avenue was sold to the Keystone Consistory for $30,000.00 and the beautiful edifice at 419 Monroe Avenue was constructed. The brick structure was enhanced with large stained-glass windows and a superb pipe organ. The first service there was on January 9, 1910.

Mr. Moffitt was followed by the Revs. George G. Dowey, William K. Newton, Charles Pittman, L.L. Aber, Frederick G. MacKenzie, and S. Thomas Percival, Jr., who served the Lord at Grace Church for 20 years before accepting a call to First Church, New York City. The Rev. Robert V. Neeb became the next pastor and the 75th anniversary was celebrated with several special services in 1956. The Rev. Alton F. Olsen served from 1956-1970 and the church grew spiritually and numerically. In August 1970, the Rev. Ralph H. Kidwell began a fruitful ministry. During the ensuing years, several evangelists and musical groups came to Grace Church. A visit from astronaut, Jim Irwin, sponsored by the parish, filled the Scranton Cultural Center for an evangelical meeting, with many making decisions for Christ.

Ground-breaking at Laurel and Watres Drive was held on October 13, 1978. After some construction problems, the church was completed and the first service was on September 9, 1979. In 1981, the church centennial year was celebrated with the theme: “that all the peoples of the earth may know that He is God, there is none else” (I Kings 8:60). Dr. Milton C. Fisher, R.E. Seminary president, was the speaker for the spring weekend series, Through Days of Preparation. A birthday party, Down Memory Lane, was held in May, and a week of special meetings in October climaxed the 100th anniversary celebration of praise with an organ concert, guest speakers from other R.E. churches, special music, and a banquet.

Due to ill health, Pastor Kidwell resigned in August 1990 and the Rev. William G. Garrison served the parish from August 1991 to May 2000. The Rev. Dr. Ron Bell was appointed interim pastor and was called to the pastorate in February 2001 until 2006. The Rev. Dr. Dale Crouthamel served as interim rector through August 2006. The Rev. Paul S. Howden was called to serve as rector and began his ministry in September 2006.

An exciting new era of worship, music, evangelism, and spiritual growth has begun. We praise God for all that is past and trust Him for all that is to come. “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His Name together.” (Psalm 34:3)

History of Our Denomination

On November 10, 1873 the Assistant Bishop of Kentucky of the Protestant Episcopal Church wrote his letter of resignation to the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Bosworth Smith, D.D., Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Kentucky.

“Under a solemn sense of duty and in the fear of God, I have to tell you that I am about to retire from the work in which I have been engaged in the last seven years in the Diocese of Kentucky, and thus to sever the relations which have existed so happily and harmoniously between us during the time… I, therefore, leave the communion in which I have labored in the sacred ministry for over twenty-eight years, and transfer my work and office to another sphere of labor. I have an earnest hope and confidence that a basis for the union of all evangelical Christendom can be found in the doctrine of Justification by faith. To this blessed work I devote the remaining years of my life, content, if I can only see the dawn of that blessed day of the Lord. I am, dear Bishop, faithfully yours in Christ.” – George David Cummins

Less than five days later, Bishop Cummins circulated a notice to “others of like mind and persuasion.”

“Dear Brother, The Lord has put into the hearts of some of His servants who are, or have been, in the Protestant Episcopal Church, the purpose of restoring the old paths of their fathers. On Tuesday, the second day of December, 1873, a meeting will be held in Association Hall, corner of Twenty-third Street and Fourth Avenue, in the City of New York, at ten o’clock a.m. to organize an Episcopal Church on the basis of the Prayer Book of 1785: a basis broad enough to embrace all who hold ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’, as that faith is maintained by the Reformed Churches of Christendom. This meeting you are cordially and affectionately invited to attend. The purpose of this meeting is to organize, and not to discuss the expediency of organizing. May the Lord guide you and us by His Holy Spirit…” -George David Cummins.

When the appointed day arrived, the Reformed Episcopal Church came into being. Bishop Cummins then addressed the group.

“One in heart, in spirit, and in faith with our fathers, who at the very beginning of the existence of this nation sought to mold and fashion the ecclesiastical polity which they had inherited from the Reformed Church of England by a judicious and thorough revision of the Book of Common Prayer, we return to their position and claim to be the old and true Protestant Episcopalians of the days immediately following the American Revolution, and through these, our ancestors, we claim an unbroken historical connection through the Church of England, with the Church of Christ, from the earliest Christian era.’ (1)

The choice of the name Reformed Episcopal Church clearly demonstrates that our founders did not consider themselves as revolutionaries who were intent on overthrowing the work of the past. Instead, they saw themselves as reformers, intent on removing the corruption of the present while holding fast to the purity of the Church in prior ages. Professor D.O. Kellogg explained in 1893.

Anglicanism, the parent of the Protestant Episcopal Church, not only stamped hereditary marks on her offspring but has been imitated in all her mutations. A glance at the history of the Church of England is pertinent therefore to that of the Reformed Episcopal Church, which is only reformed incidentally, for in gist and core it is a restoration, and shall have been called the Restored Episcopal Church. If its true relation to the organization from which it was cloven is to indicated in its name. It took and strives to maintain the original position of the Church of England, when it became Protestant, and of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Bishop White’s time. We have called it the reformed, but it is the Restored Episcopal Church. (2)

Like the English Protestant Reformers of the Sixteenth century, Bishop Cummins “sought to prove that a national Church could indeed reform itself around the Protestant principles of sola scriptura and sola fide without sloughing off fifteen centuries of the Church’s history. (3)Like Richard Hooker, early Reformed Episcopalians would have been quick to urge:

“Let us be loath to change, without urgent necessity, the ancient ordinances, rites, and long approved customs of our venerable predecessors. .. antiquity, custom and consent in the Church of God, making with that which the law doth establish are themselves sufficient reasons to uphold the same, unless some notable public inconvenience enforce the contrary… We neither follow Rome in her errors nor reject what is sound simply because it is hers. Not everything that idolaters have done is to be abhorred, but what they have done idolatrously. For of that which is good even in evil things, God is the author.’ (4)

This fundamental conservatism is revealed in comments made by Bishop Cummins in response to his critics:

“We only want to take out all that can be interpreted as teaching false doctrine; the rest should remain as it is. The fewer changes we make the better; ours is an Episcopal Church, and we do not wish to do away with our offices and liturgy”. (5)

It was with this intention and in this spirit that the Reformed Episcopal Church was founded. At that founding, Bishop Cummins presented the Declaration of Principles of the Reformed Episcopal Church for adoption.

It has been claimed by critics that the Declaration of Principles are an additional authority to the Holy Scriptures and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion . This is not true.

First, the opening principle clearly recognizes Scripture as a primary authoritative document, but not exclusively so. Holy Scripture was not given in a vacuum apart from the Church, and thus, the ancient creeds as interpreted by their English commentary, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, are also authoritative.

Second, the statement on the episcopacy is straight out of Richard Hooker, the late 16th Century Anglican theologian, who wrote the classical defense of Anglicanism, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity . Hooker endorsed episcopal polity as rooted in Scripture and as historically verified by its universal, uncontested acceptance for the first 1500 years of church history. Nevertheless, this classical Anglican resisted being so exclusive as to unchurch those who did not have bishops (his European Reformed brethren) by denying the validity of their Baptism or Communion. Those who came later in the 19th Century decided to depart from the English Reformation of Hooker and reject the Holy Communion of nonepiscopal protestant denominations. As such the second principle embraces the episcopacy for the well-being but not the being of the church.

Third, the Prayer Book of the REC is the 1785 American version of the 1662 BCP. Due to the allowance for revision, the 1928 and the Australian BCP are permitted for use as long as the Declaration of Principles are placed in the front of the Prayer Book.

Lastly, the denials of the 4th Principle clearly oppose any language defined to imply that the sacraments in and of themselves convey salvation apart from faith. However, a negative does not establish a positive. Particular terms such as priest, altar, and real presence are not actually forbidden, only their incorrect use. Specifically, these denials should in no way be understood as rejecting the clear language of documents subscribed to in the Declaration of Principles (The Scriptures, Book of Common Prayer, Thirty-Nine Articles, etc.)

 

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