Grace Presbyterian Church History
By Leona Thiele in 2002
Grace Presbyterian is the result of a merger between Bethel Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church. This merger took place officially on July 27, 1952 with 101 charter members.
The first Session meeting was held on August 12, 1952 with the Rev. Robert Axtell, interim pastor, moderating. At the September 1952 Session meeting, the elders voted to seek National Mission Aid for the church. In October 1952 the new congregation conducted its first ever member canvas to seek pledges for the coming year. The first annual meeting was held on January 6, 1953, and a budget of $5,000.00 was adopted.
The practical matters of a new pastor, house of worship, and manse were considered. Property at Broadway and Franklin Streets was purchased from the J. R. Watkins estate for $15,000. On September 20, 1953 the Rev. Layton Jackson was installed as the first pastor and was given the charge by Sheldon Jackson Presbytery. Construction began on the first unit of the church in October 1955. It was estimated that, when completed, the building, fixtures, and lot will have cost about $80,000.00.
Grace Presbyterian had been worshipping in the former Bethel Church (at 5th and Franklin Streets) since its organization in 1952. The former Bethel manse next door to the church was the pastor’s residence. The first service in the new building was held on the last Sunday in August 1956. The church, having received mission aid since its formation, voted at its annual meeting in January 1956 to strive to be free of mission aid by 1960. However, this did not happen until 1971. In 1965 the congregation adopted its by-laws and authorized construction of the present manse. The new manse was dedicated on January 9, 1966 and was open for public inspection on January 16.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s movement began in the community by projects such as flood relief, college student dinners, and student union services. Financial problems forced the church to seek avenues of service in the community through union with another congregation. On March 17, 1971 the session appointed members to a committee for starting a drafted plan to unite with First Congregational Church of Winona. After several months of discussion, the congregation decided to seek a pastor. The union discussions were dropped.
In 1973 it was decided to expand the ministry for shut-ins and others in need. As a result the Board of Deacons was instituted. By 1976 Grace Presbyterian had moved into the local and world community by offering volunteer and monetary services. In the late 70’s and early 80’s we continued to move ahead with an increase in our budget, mission giving, and special offerings. In 1981 a new roof and siding were added, and in 1983 the grounds were landscaped.
In the late 1980’s it was decided that we needed more space, so a building project was discussed. Plans were drawn up to add Sunday School rooms on the north side of the building and provide space for separate pastor and secretary offices. Our building remodel enabled us to install handicapped rest rooms, air conditioning, speaker system, and enlarge the kitchen and a full basement. We became a handicapped accessible building. As part of the project, we were able to pave the parking lot. Our most recent project, in April 2002, was to renovate of the sanctuary. The pews have been replaced with chairs, new carpeting has been installed in the front halls as well as the sanctuary, and we now have movable risers. In addition, our sound system has been upgraded.
Grace Presbyterian Church started out as a mission church, and now we support local and world missions with approximately 20% of our budget. Grace Presbyterian remains a small but vital church important locally and worldwide as we reach out to others. We have had and continue to have great leadership from our pastors, and we have been most fortunate in our members and friends, both past and present, who have given so willingly of their time, talents, and monies to help us in our growth over the last fifty years.
As we move forward into the future, Grace Presbyterian Church faithfully intends to continue following in the footsteps of Jesus and continuing to spread the word throughout the world as the Holy Spirit moves us.
List of Pastors:
Rev. Robert Axtel – Interim
Rev. Layton N. Jackson – September 20,1953 to may 1, 1959
Rev. Layton N. Jackson – July 26, 1959 to January 22, 1961
Rev. William T. King – June 4, 1961 to September 11, 1966
Rev. Jerry D. Benjamin – June 18, 1967 to June 27, 1971
Rev. Lynn R Davis – September 24, 1972 to August 29, 1976
Rev. C. Richard Mills – October 5, 1977 to February 28, 1991
Rev. Gordon Aldridge – Interim
Rev. Scott H. Jansen – January 28, 1992 to September 8, 1997
Rev. Glen Bickford – Interim
Rev. Hugh H. Drennan – February 14, 1999 to December 31, 2003
Rev. Al Kleinsasser – January 1 2003 to July 31,2006 (1/2 time) (a Baptist Minister)
CLP Doug Rosendahl – January 1, 2004 to December 31 2008 (1/2 time)
Rev. James Scaife – August 1,2006 to October 1 2009 (1/2 time)
Rev. Susan Li – Interim March 15 2010 to January 2012 (1/2 time)
Rev. Pamela Gnagy – Designated February 2012 to February 9, 2015