36 Woodlawn Ave,
Vineyard Haven, MA 02568
Vineyard Haven is one of the most popular sailing destinations on the New England coast and for good reason. The charming town, home to The Black Dog empire, is filled with shops and excellent restaurants. There is a movie theatre, Murdick’s Fudge & Ice Cream parlor, and, best of all, a large harbor with plenty of moorings, support for dinghies, and a water taxi, Vineyard Haven Launch. But for me, a frequent visitor to Vineyard Haven, the main asset is Grace Church.
Grace Church is such an exceptional find it is hard to know where to begin the description of this unique Parish. Grace Church, the parish, was founded in 1862 when the first Episcopal service was held on Martha’s Vineyard. By 1896 the current church was established at its Woodlawn Avenue location, making it a five-minute walk from the Town of Tisbury dinghy dock. The history page on the parish website gives a solid overview of the development of this congregation and what you will see as you browse the site, is something you will experience in reality once at a service. Grace is a church with a long history of love, community, and tolerance. In the service leaflet, there is a lovely prayer for the church that has great significance given the current hostile divisions in the United States. The prayer begins: “May our church be a place where our focus is on God and our neighbor; where multiplicity of identities is sought; where we remember that we are all equally in relationships with God, who is greater than we are…” Also in the leaflet is a simple statement at the end of the service information, THE END OF WORSHIP – THE BEGINNING OF THE SERVICE.
The building itself I can’t believe would hold more than 100 – 150 worshippers, but the sanctuary is welcoming in its simplicity and coziness. Do not fly by the spectacular stain glass window in the back of the church. It is a magnificent rendering of a dove that immediately gave me a sense of soaring with a glad heart as I left after the service. The service itself is pretty similar to those experienced in most parishes. The Sunday I was there, we used Rite II without a lot of modification; however, the music was something else. Grace Church uses three hymnals and a service music sheet. Besides the 1982 traditional hymnal, you will find Wonder, Love & Praise, a church commissioned supplement to the 1982 Hymnal that I had never seen before, and the Lift Every Voice & Sing II, an African-American hymnal, published by the Episcopal Church that I also had never seen before, but was terrific from which to sing. The service I attended used all three hymnals. If you have a chance to hear the rector preach, be sure to linger a bit after the service and chat with the Rev. Stephen Harding. His sermons are also available on the website, and I have to give them A for relevance. Rev. Harding seems to have the keen ability to take scripture and current events and find a comfortable home for them both within his sermons.
One last piece of advice. Grace Church has a yearly fundraising effort that involves selling lobster rolls that are so good, they have been named the Best on Martha’s Vineyard. Plan your trip if you can to coincide with the Friday night Lobster Roll effort. On a Friday in August 2019, the church sold 1,400 rolls! The dates are listed on their website.
There are several options for breakfast or brunch after the conclusion of the service. If you are leaving Port and want something quick to take with you, stop at The Black Dog Bakery on State Road. Here you will find the usual pastries, or you can opt for a breakfast sandwich. If you have more time, you might consider The Black Dog Tavern at 20 Beach Street Extension. But a word of warning, if you are starving, be aware that the Tavern is trendy and there is usually a wait. Another good spot is The Waterside Market on Main Street, which offers a large selection of breakfast and lunch items, all of which are good and reasonably priced.