The date given for organization of the congregation known as Grace United Methodist Church is December 24, 1797. Around 1795, William Meredith, formerly a missionary from Great Britain, came to Wilmington to preach to the slaves. He bought land and built a small meeting house. When it burned, he led his members in building another church at the corner of Second and Walnut Streets. In Meredith’s will, dated 1799, the church and parsonage were deeded to Bishop Francis Asbury for the continuance of a Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington.
While many of the early members were slaves, community leaders were also attracted by the Gospel preached here. Membership increased and additional property was purchased, extending church holdings to Front Street. In 1815 Bishop Asbury ordered the church rebuilt and the parsonage enlarged.
As growth continued, the sanctuary was enlarged and classrooms added in the basement. In 1844, fire destroyed the church building for the second time. A new structure on the same foundation was consecrated as Front Street Methodist Episcopal Church South (the Methodist Episcopal Church divided over the issue of slavery into northern and southern parts), soon to become the largest, most prestigious Methodist congregations in North Carolina. The remains of Meredith were placed beneath the porch.
In 1865, with the end of the Civil War, 635 black members withdrew to organize St. Stephen A.M.E. Church at the corner of Fifth and Red Cross streets. Front Street Church continued, but in 1886 was destroyed by fire for the third time, along with most of Wilmington’s waterfront buildings. It was decided to relocate the church to the corner of Fourth and Mulberry streets. The name was changed to Grace Church and the city soon changed the name of the street to Grace Street to honor the contributions of the church to the city. Walsh Hall was constructed in 1916 and is still in use.
In 1939, with the uniting of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the name became Grace Methodist Church.
On March 21, 1947, a fourth fire destroyed the sanctuary and classroom building. The present Neo-Gothic sanctuary was constructed in 1950 just as the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church merged, and our church became became Grace United Methodist Church. The education building was constructed in 1958.
Grace is the “Mother Church of Methodism” in the Wilmington area, having had a major part in beginning the Fifth Avenue, Trinity, Wrightsboro, Epworth and Pine Valley congregations. Two of Grace’s pastors have been elected Bishop and eleven sessions of the Annual Conference have been hosted here. Most importantly, lives have been touched and changed by stirring worship, educational programs, and inspiring music.
On June 28, 1998, Grace and Sunset Park United Methodist Churches merged to create the “new” Grace Church. The merger has borne much fruit, as Grace Church has strengthened its outreach to the community and to the world, while creating a nurturing spiritual home for its members and the community. We are grateful to God for what we have been able to accomplish in these first two-hundred-plus years, and we continue to pray for God’s guidance and empowerment as we seek to build on our legacy of offering Christ to the world from the heart of downtown Wilmington.
The congregation has reached out into the community through such efforts as an Interfaith Kindergarten and a neighborhood enrichment program. It has joined the annual Wilmington Candlelight Tour of Historic Homes and Churches, offers dramatic and musical programs to the public, and provides continual warmth, love, and spiritual renewal to all.