Blessing of the Animals
Grace celebrates the Feast of St. Francis Day on the first Sunday of October with a unique and moving outdoor service. The churchyard includes a chainsaw sculpture of St. Francis (created from a Jerusalem pine that grew there), which provides the perfect backdrop for the Blessing of the Animals celebration. All ages bring their beloved pets, from dogs, cats, horses, geckos and everything in between to sit in the churchyard then receive their individual blessings. Some of their owners come forward and share stories of life with their special pets. This inspiring day of worship serves as a reminder of the joy animals bring to our lives all year round. Adults, children and clergy all look forward to this annual worship service.
The Grace community worships together throughout Holy Week beginning with a special Palm Sunday service commemorating the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, followed by an Agape Meal, Foot Washing and Holy Eucharist on Maundy Thursday and the Good Friday service and watch. On Saturday evening, Grace holds an Easter Vigil on the Yorktown waterfront in collaboration with other area churches. In the long tradition at Grace, art and music are part of this glorious service that began 25 years ago at Grace.
The annual Holy Saturday Easter Vigil typically draws hundreds at dusk to the banks of the York River in Yorktown, Virginia. During pandemic times, we adjusted to go virtual – you can watch our 2020 Virtual Vigil video here.
The Easter Vigil is an ancient liturgy of the church, a beautiful first service of Easter as the sun sets on the river. Grace has participated each year since the 2012 start, with Episcopal parishes joining other congregations in a tradition of drumming, fire, processions and baptisms. It is a multidenominational collaboration that recognizes Easter as a celebration of the whole church, not just individual parishes.
All are welcome to bring a chair or blanket to participate in this event.
Day of Remembrance
Christmas can be a difficult time for those of us who grieve the loss of a loved one, whether recent or long ago. The Daughters of the King at Grace Episcopal Church offer a quiet, reflective Service of Remembrance during Advent – typically, on a Sunday afternoon in the first week or so of December – for those who mourn these losses. Attendees are invited to bring a photo of a loved one and to light a candle to remember and honor those they have lost. Please check the church’s online calendar for the date.
Grace Church has a long history of commemorating Memorial Day and the end of World War II. The pandemic necessitated a turn to virtual commemoration in 2020, which you may view by clicking here.
Typically, though, this ceremony begins with a brief service inside the Historic Church, including a history and meaning of Memorial Day, a dedication of flags to be placed at each gravesite, and prayers offered by Grace parishioners. Guests exit to the adjacent cemetery, where they move through the historic church graveyard with active duty military from a local base replacing with honors the American flags on each of the graves of those known to have served. This military service to America begins with the Revolutionary War and includes the Civil War, Philippine Insurrection, World Wars I and II, Korea and ends – for now – with the Cold War. A color guard participates and at the conclusion of the ceremony, “Taps” is played and the historic church bell (circa 1725) is tolled to honor those who served our country. Click here for the commemorative booklet that details those who served and are at rest in the Grace cemetery.
As with the Memorial Day ceremony, Grace has a years-long tradition of honoring those who have served our country. The 2020 pandemic will likely necessitate a virtual ceremony, but in years past (and, we hope, ahead) we have gathered for a brief service inside the Historic Church. Guests then proceed to the graveyard, where a contingent of local active duty military and honor guard replaces with honors the American flags on each known veteran’s grave. Click here for the commemorative booklet that details those who served and are at rest in the Grace cemetery.
The Grace Church Labyrinth is a 31-foot diameter canvas replicating the ancient labyrinth laid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France, circa AD 1220. Labyrinths far predate Christianity and are found in almost every culture around the world. In the Middle Ages, the Christian Church appropriated the labyrinth as a symbol of a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the ultimate act of devotion. The Grace Church Labyrinth allows present-day pilgrims to reclaim a spiritual expression that has been lost for centuries.
Since its dedication in 1995, the Grace Church Labyrinth has been offered in workshops at the church and throughout the region; hundreds of seekers have walked its path. People of all ages and backgrounds, each with their own beliefs and needs, have walked, danced, sung, meditated and greeted each other in peace.
Questions about the Labyrinth
Walking can be a spiritual experience. Movement can be prayer. In fact for some of us, like St. Augustine, walking is the way we do contemplation, discernment and often can best encounter the divine. The labyrinth is a spiritual tool that helps us use our walking for spiritual purposes.
How to walk the Labyrinth
The labyrinth has only one path, and if you follow it, you will arrive at the center. This is not a simple description – it is a spiritual assertion. All of us are on a journey, each individual on a unique path while in community with others.
Labyrinth walks are offered, as a Grace Church ministry, to provide a walking meditation based on an ancient symbol of pilgrimage, making possible healing, self-understanding and an experience of centering in a setting of beauty, mystery and peace. Please contact Belinda Willis at 757-870-6161 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to schedule the labyrinth.