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Nyack Sketch Log: New Rector at Grace Church

NSL113_New Rector at Grace Church Featured Imageby Bill Batson

The Reverend Owen C. Thompson celebrated his first service at Grace Episcopal Church on September 15. Last Friday, October 18, Father Thompson sat in on the bongo drums for a set at GraceMusic’s first concert of the season, sporting shades, a garland and a very hip hat. Apparently, the new rector at Grace Church is already keeping the beat for a congregation that has a rich tradition of communal creativity.

“I look forward to both ministering to and with God’s people here, and simply being a good neighbor who adds to the diversity and warmth of a beautiful village called Nyack,” said Father Thompson.

“The search for our new rector took 18 months,” says Senior Warden, Jeff McDowell. “Our committee interviewed many capable candidates. The entire parish is thrilled to have Father Owen begin his service with us as our new rector. It is an exciting time for Grace Church.”

NSL_113_Grace Welcomes New RectorFather Thompson is the son of the late Right Reverend Herbert Thompson Jr., Bishop of Southern Ohio and the late Ruselle Thompson, a former operatic soprano. Father Thompson has adopted his father’s ministry motto as his own, “To reconcile. To heal. To Liberate. To Serve.”

Father Thompson’s wife, Jonna, is a holistic health practitioner, and they have two young sons, Ridley and Carter.

Father Thompson succeeds the Reverend Richard Gressle, who retired as rector on January 1, 2012. The Reverend Alon White  served the church as Interim Rector during the transition and search process.

NSL113_Grace Church PortraitGrace Episcopal Church was founded in 1861 by Franklin Babbitt. When Babbitt crossed the Hudson on a sailing sloop from Tarrytown, some considered Nyack “an old Dutch place about fifty years behind the times.” At 32, Babbitt swiftly cobbled together a congregation. Two weeks after his arrival at the Burd Street dock, he held his first service and by the end of the month, he presided over a formal meeting where the parish was incorporated.

Babbitt was as much a creative force as a spiritual one during his 56 years as rector. In the early years, he played the roll of organist and choirmaster in addition to his duties as rector and sexton. The greatest legacy to his artistry however, and the enduring symbol of his organizational genius is Grace Church itself. The building functions like a hymn or a painting, elevating those who behold the exterior or experience the acoustics of the interior.

There are many wonderful cultural and community programs contained within the stone walls and stain glass windows of Grace Church. The music program has four choirs. GraceMusic produces events and festivals, including the annual Welles Crowther Concert of Remembrance , a performing arts tribute to a member of the congregation who sacrificed his life saving others on 9/11.

Amazing Grace Circus, a youth art and fitness program, is another response of the Grace community to the emotional abyss that followed September 11th. The youth circus has now touched the lives of thousands of students and families through programs in public and private schools throughout the region.

In a recent interview, Father Thompson described the harmony between his life-long interest in music and art and the cultural community that is Grace Church and Nyack.

GraceMusic 2013-2014 Schedule

The Sebastians
Sun., Nov. 17, 2013 at 4p
Award-winning chamber ensemble, The Sebastians, commemorate the tricentennial of Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico concerti: almost wall-to wall Vivaldi, plus a newly commissioned companion piece by Robert Honstein.

44th Annual Messiah Sing
Sun., Dec. 8, 2013 at 4p
A Rockland holiday tradition, Grace provides the soloists, you sing the choruses. Listeners welcome. Conducted by Brandon Beachamp.
All tickets $10; children free.

Three Organists Extravaganza
Sun., Jan. 26, 2014 at 4p
A joyful event that welcomes back John Gregory Bate & Brian-Paul Thomas to join Brandon Beachamp in a “trio concert” & show off their Cassavant with music that spans the centuries.

Dona Nobis Pacem
Sun., March 16, 2014 at 4p
Grace Church Choir sings music of war and peace in commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the First World War, featuring Duruflé’s beautiful and moving Requiem.

“Part of what drew me to Grace was its vibrant music program. I was thrilled when I learned that Nyack is a town that is filled with musicians and artists. Call me biased, but I view music and art as that which is rooted in the spirit and brings us closer to one another and points to the mystery that is God, as there is truly something ethereal and transcendental about music and art.

My mother was an operatic soprano who sang on a few occasions at Carnegie Hall, as well as leading roles in off-Broadway musicals such as Carousel, South Pacific, and Porgy and Bess. Our home was constantly filled with the sound and presence of music. When she would sing in the choir at the church we attended during my youth, I, as a toddler would wander up to the chancel and curl up at her feet just to hear her sing. It was my mother’s inspiration that led me to join the boys choir at our church and continues to fuel my love affair with music to this day.

Prior to being called to the priesthood, I was involved in the performing arts (actor) and in the visual arts (video production).  The arts are a big part of my identity. I envision the Church hosting a variety of music concerts, spoken word poetry events, and art exhibits. It is therefore my hope and prayer that music and other forms of art can be a vehicle to build lasting and meaningful relationships between the church and the rest of the community.”

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “New Rector at Grace Church“ © 2013 Bill Batson.  To see more, visit 

Corner Frame Shop Masthead 4_revisedThe Nyack Sketch Log is sponsored by The Corner Frame Shop at 40 South Franklin Street in Nyack, NY.

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