A brief timeline of the history of Grace Chapel
November 22, 2023

Grace Chapel History

  • Lexington in the late 1940s: The end of World War II had a dramatic effect on the economy and landscape of America. Former soldiers were returning, looking for jobs, and settling in the suburbs. Consequently, Lexington became a hub for new families. These new people began to change cultures across America, influencing Christianity as the social gospel movement began to be favored over the traditional Christian faith. 
  • October 5, 1948- Five families have their first official meeting in the basement of the home of Nathan and Jewel Hubley on 24 Ledgelawn Avenue in Lexington “to discuss and pray about the need for an evangelical witness in the area”. This meeting became a regular Bible study that continued on Wednesday nights in various homes, until 1953. The group’s first leaders called themselves the “Lexington Gospel Messengers”. The group would invite guest speakers, such as: Dr. E. Joseph Evans, Rev. Carlton Helgerson, and Rev. Robert Brain. 
    • The four other couples who first attended were Mr. and Mrs. Leeland McConchie, Mr. and Mrs. Herman Dilmore, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Mitchell, and Mr. and Mrs. Claude Cole, and as time went on, more people would join the group: Mr. and Mrs. Eliot Eames, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Reckard, Mrs. Josephine Kennedy, Mrs. Thelma Wills, Mrs. Dolly Selfridge, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Yphantis, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Howard, and Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Wortman. 
  • Mid 1949- The group changed their name to  “North Lexington Protestant Church”, and the group began taking an offering on June 7, 1949. 
  • October 1949- A news release records the basic beliefs that would later form Grace Chapel. These beliefs qualified the group as an interdenominational Bible study that sought to address topics chosen by the participants. They allowed any translation of the Bible, even King James or official Roman Catholic version, to affirm that they didn’t want any participants to feel the need to switch churches.   
  • November 2, 1949- The group votes to change their name to the Lexington Open Bible Fellowship.  
  • 1953- The group discontinues their meetings because they sense no clear leading from God to start a church.  They decide they aren’t ready to start a full scale ministry and want to wait for more direction from God 
  • March 5, 1955- A meeting is held to determine if there is current interest and leading to start a church. The group agrees to move forward and drafts the articles of faith and bylaws.  From that point on, weekly meetings are continued and a corporation is formed. 
  • July 18, 1955- Grace Chapel is incorporated as “North Lexington Baptist Church, Inc.” The original incorporators were: Nathan Hubley Jr, Myron H. Ferrin Jr, Claude A. Cole, Eliot N. Eames, Arthur G. Mitchell, Richard E. Reckard, Charles W. Campbell, K. Paul Yphantis, Burton C. Mitchell and Wallace W. Wilder Jr. 

  • February 12, 1956- The first public services are held at the Old Belfry Club, a facility  located on Muzzey Street that the church rented until they could afford their own building. 
    • Richard Reckard, one of Grace Chapel’s original incorporators, served as the Bible School Superintendent. He oversaw Sunday School for all ages at the 9:30 hour, and had 35 people in attendance on that first week. The worship service began at 10:45, led by Rev. Newton Schoenly--approximately 75 people were in attendance. A 7:00pm service was also held.
    • During the morning service, Schoenly reportedly said: 

“Man today is looking for peace, a peace that the materialistic world cannot give. But, there is a peace that is available to all in the Person of the One who was called the prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has been the answer to man’s needs down through the ages of history, and He alone can bring that peace and satisfaction of soul and mind for which men are looking. Here in Historic Lexington, we will present that historic message from the only Authority, Almighty God, as revealed in His word, the Bible. The message of fellowship with God through the redeeming grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is the message which has made possible happy, enjoyable and practical living for centuries.”

  • Rev. Newton Schoenly
  • June 26, 1956- The legal name of the church is changed to Grace Chapel, moving away from denominational affiliation.
  • 1958 - Missionary committee formed and on November 23, 1958 the First Annual Missions Conference was held. 
  • 1959- Grace Chapel Takes Mr. and Mrs. Richard Bailey as their first missionaries (to West Pakistan) 
  • May 10, 1959- The first chapel, a 200 seat church building, is dedicated in a service.
  • Sept. 7, 1960- Nathan Goff begins as full-time senior pastor
  • FY 1961-1962: Grace Chapel officially becomes affiliated with the interdenominational body, the National Association of Evangelicals .The elders were dedicated to prayer--a list of members was given to them, and they would pray for the names daily. Formerly, the Board of Deacons was the overseeing board, but an elders group was created in addition to the deacons. The deacons focused more on physical aspects of the church, such as maintenance

  • 1962-1963 - Installed closed-circuit TV

  • 1964- Construction on new sanctuary starts- it could seat 500 in nave, 150 in balcony, and 50 in chair loft.  
  • July 11, 1965- the first worship service is held in the new sanctuary (700). At this point, membership is 303 and attendance is 425. 
    • New sanctuary results in increased attendance: “The completion of the new sanctuary has been the big event in all our lives this year. It has been particularly significant to the Ushers because of the new problems it has presented. These have been concerned with increased average attendance, increased attendance at special occasions, and increased space to utilize effectively.

    • 1967-1968- Goff pushes against complacency: “Above all we must pray for revival, refreshing, renewal from God. Let us refuse to bed satisfied with the outer husks of things. Let us ask God to do in us and through us that which was reported in Acts- “These men have turned the world upside down.”--Goff
    • 1967-1968- “Chapel in the Sky” services are held outside on warm Sunday evenings.

    • January 31, 1972- Goff leaves to do ministry in Canada (AR 71-72 p. 21). 
      • “Due to the economic recession, several of our faithful and long time members and their families have moved elsewhere to new places of employment. Pastor Goff, after eleven and one half years of dedicated and tireless ministry, responded to the call of the Lord to accept a pastorate in Toronto, Ontario.”—William R. Greenwood, chairman of the board of elders 
      • Jan. 1972- Fred Prinzing made interim pastor  

    • 1972-1973- Building program launched for an addition behind the sanctuary that allow for more Christian education space. New outreach committees are formed: shepherding, communications, and building, and the church continues to grow: 

    “We have seen our attendance grow faster than it has ever grown before. We have seen mature Christians join our fellowship so that they might have a part in our service to Christ. And, we have seen new Christians yield themselves to Him as their Savior and Lord.”—Chester Amsden, Chairman of the Board of Elders

    • Aug. 20, 1972- Gordon MacDonald becomes senior pastor  
      • “My biggest satisfaction as a pastor has been the spirit of the people. The Spirit of God has been among us. The evidence has been unity, faith, hospitality, warmth, caring, sharing, and people coming to a personal relationship with God. Grace Chapel is not a staff, a personality, bricks, or programs; it is people! Please, never forget that! 
        —Pastor MacDonald
    • March 1, 1973- Grace purchases Old Belfry Club for youth ministry and to serve as a family center for the Lexington community (almost 17 years after first service there).
    • 1973-1974- Building completed. Quote from Gordon MacDonald about growth of church: 

    “God knows nothing of status quo or sitting still. The prime evidence of His presence is always growth in every direction. Wherever I look at the Chapel life I see such evidence. I believe that he has given us a destiny, a promised land to occupy. As it was with Israel at Kadesh, it can be very easy for us to get occupied with the giants and now with the resources of God. The future is going to cost us money, time, and spiritual energy. It is not going to be occupied by uncommitted people. Only those who determine that God’s best is their best will keep pace with what is going to happen.”  
    -Gordon MacDonald

    • 1974- Bicentennial objectives are set: plan to double congregation through evangelism, to make Old Belfry Club a tourist Drop in Center. 

    • 1975-1976-  Attendance increases 20%, where Sunday mornings have 1100-1200 people and 3-5 are “committing to Christ” each week. 

      • “We have grown because Christian people have spread the news that something happens in a church when God’s Spirit is working and Christian people love each other.”—Gordon MacDonald.
    • January 11, 1976- 3rd morning service began due to overcrowding and increased membership, discussions began about having a larger sanctuary.

    “Preaching three times on Sunday morning and with some frequency on Sunday night has brought its own kind of fatigue (more mental than physical). I look forward to the day when our new sanctuary will make duplicate services, rather than triplicate, a reality.”
    —Gordon MacDonald

    • 1977-1978- Counseling center is established and deaf ministry begins its first year, providing translation at the 9:30 service and classes to teach children sign language. 
    • Summer 1978- ceremonies are held for the new sanctuary that holds 1250 ppl.
    • 1978-1979- Radio broadcasting of sermon begins on WEZE, and construction of new sanctuary begins 

    “As I have watched this beautiful sanctuary rise into the air, I have sensed the Lord reminding me again and again that it is only a tool—never a monument; only a “means”—never an “end””

    -Gordon MacDonald 

    • April 1979- The Old Belfry Club burns down on Palm Sunday. St. Brigids helps with space needs created by loss of building. 
    • December 1979- 1250 seat sanctuary dedicated. There are 2 services and 2 sets of Sunday school classes 
    • 1982 - Mary Ann Mitchener becomes chairwoman over institutional and urban ministries 
    • 1982-1983: The church updates their technology by adding computers.
      • “During this past year we took advantage of an offer from the Digital Equipment Corporation to purchase a computer system from them at a very attractive price. We have acquired software to run this computer system from Breuer and Company and we are using the computer to maintain our accounting records and issue checks for all disbursements…” Bob Ludwig 
    • Nov. 11, 1984- Gordon MacDonald resigns/leaves Grace Chapel

    “My prayer for you in 1985 is this: ‘Father, Anoint this remarkable collection of Christians at Grace Chapel with the power to see their possibilities and potential, each other’s hurts and needs, your grace and call. Keep us ‘ambitious’ to expand the Kingdom wherever it can be done in our region. Set our eyes upon our communities, New England, and the world. Deliver us from complacency and conceit. With the sculptor, may we be able to say as a congregation: ‘our very best work is the one we do next.’ You are Lord of our congregation; we are your people. Keep us in the Holy Way. Amen.’” 

    -Gordon MacDonald 

    • 1984-1985- Relationship established with First Baptist Church of Foxboro , we “approved the conditions of future interactions and expenditures of money to assist the First Baptist Church of Foxboro"- David Auld, chairman of church council, And Dave Ryder interim lay pastor at Foxboro.
    • March 16, 1986- Howard Clark begins as senior pastor, and the five divisions of ministry are developed: Pastoral Care, Discipleship and Evangelism, Worship, Missions, and Christian Education .

    • 1987-1988- Considering the expansion of the property, we began looking into Muzzey street and possible expansion on Worthen Road. “We are faced with wonderful problems. They are the problems of a large ministry with many competing needs for our limited resources.”- Jim Willey, Chairman of church council 

      • June 1987- Mary Ann Mitchener made full-time staff for Institutional and Urban Ministries

    • 1988-1989- Richard Rhodes joins pastoral staff as Director of Discipleship and Evangelism 

    • Feb 13, 1991- The 3 Militia Drive purchase is finalized.
    • September 1991- Mom to Mom starts as a program where experienced women teach others 
    • February 23, 1992- Pastor Clark resigns. He moves to Dallas, Texas where he becomes the senior pastor at Northwest Bible Church.
    • March 1992-93-Haddon Robinson interim pastor and guest speaker.
    • March 17, 1993- Gordon MacDonald returns as senior pastor.
    • 1993-1994- The new mission for the church based on transformation, community, and mobilization, and the 4th worship service is added. 

    “This was the year of Transformation. The big “T” is the first of our three ministry processes: Transformation (change and growth in Christ), Community (connection in Christian fellowship and support) and Mobilization (teaming up to serve in the name of Jesus).”
    Gordon MacDonald

    • May 15, 1994- Grace Community Church started in Chelmsford, with David Helfer and wife Lora as pastor and 30 Grace Chapel families. The grand opening had 250 people in attendance. 
    • September 1996- Doug Whallon becomes Executive Minister and Chief of Staff , he formerly served in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for almost 2 decades. 

    • 1998-1999-  Barry O’Brien moves from communications to Children’s ministry, and the 2 Militia Drive building  is purchased for about $3.2 million. It is a 3 story office building with 77 parking spaces.  

    • June 6, 1999- Gordon MacDonald leaves Grace Chapel with a plan to focus on writing, speaking and working with unchurched American leaders.

    “Saying good-bye to Grace Chapel is among the hardest things Gail and I have ever done. We are closing one of the most important chapters of our lives. For almost nineteen years of my pastoral life, I have had the privilege of preaching the Bible as many as four times each weekend at Grace. On most Mondays I’ve been with our staff hashing out the details and plans for our ministry together. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I’ve been with leaders and others who felt it important to visit with the pastor.  

    -Gordon MacDonald

    • August 1999- Tom VanAntwerp joins as Minister to Young Adults and Singles.
    • 1999 - ESL outreach program is started after starting ESL programs a year and a half prior 
    • June 1999- First annual summerfest is held at the CBD in Peabody

    • 1999-2000- The church enters into a 12 month interim period 

    “Interims are passages—intentional passages. They are transitions from the past to the future. We have good momentum and spiritual readiness. Now we are on the verge of receiving a new senior Pastor, Bryan Wilkerson, whose preaching, leadership, and pastoring are spiritual gifts that God wants us to have. It is time for us to press forward with open hearts and great expectation. As we step into an exhilarating future, it’s time to affirm once again that our focus on Christ causes us joyfully to press on toward the goal, to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

    - Doug Whallon

    • 2000-2001- Dana Baker joins staff to lead Institutional and Urban Missions 

    • August 2000- Bryan Wilkerson comes to Grace Chapel as senior pastor 
      • “The unity of the Spirit was also evident with the call to our new Senior Pastor, the Rev. Bryan Wilkerson. The search process, which began a year ago with the formation of a Search Committee, was bathed in prayer, fasting, understanding, patience, enthusiasm, thoroughness, and objectivity. The goal from the beginning was to find the person God had prepared to lead us, and He again did not fail us. As we enter into this new year, Rev. Wilkerson has already challenged us not to look back on the “glory days,” but to look forward with great expectation and hope. The Lord who led our church 51 years ago is the same Lord leading us today. He is the Lord who led us to our new Senior Pastor, and he is the Lord who will lead us into the future. With this promise, we are assured that the “glory days” are yet to come. Praise be to God!”
        - John Schoenherr  
    • “The Committee felt that Bryan Wilkerson had more preaching ability and pastoral gifts than the other candidates, and he comes without an “institutional memory.” The Committee recommends Bryan Wilkerson, describing him as a “breath of fresh air” with more of a “people dimension.”- Statement from special corporation meeting on May 10, 2000
    • 2001-2002- Saturday evening services is moved to Sunday morning at 8:05, resulting in Pastor Bryan preaching at four Sunday morning services. The Alpha program, a 10 week course on basic Christianity,  is launched and offered 3 times. Grace Groups are formed through the Grace Chapel Outreach Team, and Elsie Kitchen becomes the placement coordinator for these groups.

    “No other church in our region has the vision, resources, and potential to reach the lost for Christ and make disciples in this part of His vineyard. We dare not shirk. Rather, we embrace this calling with humility, thanksgiving, stewardship, and passion, knowing that out of God’s sovereignty we have been given the privilege to serve.”
    - Tom Colatosti 

    •  2002-2003- A new building plan is created to tear down and rebuild the church rather than go through with the courtyard project, Militia 2 and 3 are renovated  and GC@Night service begins.

    • 2004- Grace Chapel makes commitment to being church of small groups, not with small groups 
    • 2006- Life Communities are launched.
    • 2010- The search for a satellite campus begins.
    • Late 2010- Grace purchases Casa Di Fior for $3.2 million. 
    • 2011- First Campus, Wilmington, is launched 
    • September 18, 2011- Grand opening of wilmington campus
    • Early 2013- Watertown church gifts building to Grace Chapel
    • Sept 29, 2013- Watertown begins holding services 
    • October 27, 2013- grand opening for Watertown campus
    • 2014 -ELex is launched at the performing arts center of LCA.
    • September 28, 2014: East Lexington Grand opening
    • May 17, 2015- One Church Sunday with lots of baptisms 
    • August 2015- Foxboro Bible Church votes to give building to Grace Chapel
    • December 8, 2015- Grace acquires Foxboro Bible Church
    • 2015- Started Partnership with Christ CHurch in Amherst, New Hampshire
    • 2016- Started considering developing the Foxboro campus.
    • 2017- The Foxboro campus is launched. 

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