A History of Activism

Grace Church was founded in 1871 and has an inspiring history of social activism. Such a history includes providing a home to one of the first Head Start programs, offering training for the Peace Corps and Vista volunteers.

Grace Exterior Early

A Racially Inclusive Congregation

In 1957, Grace Church welcomed members of St. Philip’s – a historically black Episcopal Church – establishing Grace as one of the first fully integrated Episcopal churches in the nation. The spirit of St. Philip’s lives on at Grace. In the 1960s, Grace led the city’s churches in its commitment to civil rights, and Grace was also a meeting site for the Congresses for Racial Equality.

St Phillips Church

The Bomb Threat at Grace Episcopal Church

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Human rights in Syracuse : two memorable decades : a selected history from 1963 to 1983, by Zoe Cornwall.  Published in 1987 by the Human Rights Commission of Syracuse and Onondaga County.  There are several copies available in the County Library system.

David Pendleton Oakerhater

In the late 1900s, David Pendleton Oakerhater, a Cheyenne, was baptized and ordained a deacon at Grace. Oakerhater devoted his life to serving his people and the Episcopal Church. In 1992, Oakerhater was elevated to sainthood. Grace Church is the national shrine to Saint Oakerhater – the first Native American Episcopal saint.

David Pendleton Oakerhater Window.jpg

Pioneering Women’s Ordination

Betty Bone SchiessIn 1974, Betty Bone Schiess sparked national controversy as a member of the “Philadelphia Eleven,” eleven Episcopal women who were ordained as priests in Philadelphia. It was considered an act of disobedience since the church hierarchy had not yet consented to the ordination of women. She later became an associate rector of Grace.

Philadelphia Eleven

LGBT Equality

In 2008, Grace Church led the Diocese of Central New York in LGBT activism, participating in the CNY Pride Parade and Festival. That same year, the Rev. Peter Williams, an openly gay priest, was received into the Episcopal priesthood from the Roman Catholic tradition.

Episcopal Welcome GLBT

Social Justice

We are active members of the Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (A.C.T.S., www.acts-syracuse.org), an interfaith advocacy group that works for social justice in Onondaga County.  In the last two years Grace has taken a leading role in the movement to end solitary confinement for incarcerated youth in Onondaga County.


We have also offered public support to our Muslim sisters and brothers in light of the current political climate in our country.


Our Connection to Syracuse University

Grace is located within walking distance of Syracuse University and has been the spiritual home to undergraduate and graduate students for decades.  Grace is strategically situated along the newly designated Connective Corridor, which links SU and arts and cultural institutions downtown, providing opportunities for growth and collaboration.

Orange Canterbury Cross