Grace Episcopal Church, Kilmarnock, Virginia, is the largest rural Episcopal Church in the State of Virginia. It was the first church built in Kilmarnock and was consecrated by Bishop Johns in 1852. At the time, Grace Church, Historic Christ Church, St. Mary’s Whitechapel and Trinity Church were all served by a single rector. In 1973, Grace Church was given independence and oversight of Historic Christ Church and the other two congregations were able to call their own rector. Today, Grace Church maintains its ties with Historic Christ Church and continues to celebrate Holy Eucharist there at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings in the summer.
The original Grace House was built in 1950. Six years later, estate funds were received for building a new church. The old church, which is the present-day Grace Chapel, was moved and connected to the new sanctuary by an arcade. Growing numbers and the need for more space resulted in a new Grace House, building in the mid-1980s and consecrated in 1988 by Bishop Lee.
Today, Grace Church is a unique blend of past and present, a place where the Family of Grace’s time, talent and treasure join the offerings of those who have gone before.
The current congregation is expanding to include many families which are new to the area and to the church.
In the 1970s, a crab feast was started to generate dollars. These funds were to be used for the Women of the Church and to fund the attendance of a retreat for members of the congregation. This was used especially for those with several members in a family that otherwise would not be able to afford to attend. Of the funds raised, half were given to the Women of the Church to benefit programs in the community outside of Grace Church. This slowly evolved into
a small yard sale.
The Yard Sale continued to grow and when Hugh White was rector in the late 1990s, it was decided that because of the size of the funds being generated that the proceeds would all go to the church to be given out to various needy programs in the surrounding community. An outreach committee was founded during this time to evaluate the needs of the community and to make its recommendation for the distribution of funds.
That means that all of the funds made from the yard sale would go directly back to the community!
Many community organizations have become involved with the church in the yard sale. Businesses contribute generously by donating products and services. Service organizations benefit not only from the dollars, but by reaping the benefits of needed clothing, furniture, household goods, plants, linens and whatever is available following the sale. Some community organizations even make advance plans with the church and collect bags of clothing before hand.
Originally, the one-day sale was conducted at the church, both in the building and on the grounds. Soon this became a concern with traffic backing up through Kilmarnock.
Around 2003, the yard sale was moved to the Alexandria Boys Camp approximately 2 miles from the church. The Boys Camp offered a setting of increased space, buildings and parking areas.
The directory of the Yard Sale reads like a flea market shopper’s dream. It includes: Arts and Frames, Books, Café, Children’s Clothing/Boutique, Computers, Electronics, Indoor Furniture, Linens, Men’s Clothing, Outdoor Sales, Pantry, Plants, Tools and Small Appliances, Toys and Games, Treasures, White Elephant, Women’s Clothing, Women’s Boutique and an enormous auction which includes numbers of used cars, boats and trailers, lawn equipment, and large household items. It covers a large basketball court!
Attendance in 2009 was estimated to be several hundred cars with over 1,000 people. The volunteers both from the church and the community numbered more than 130! Many of the volunteers spend upwards of a thousand hours in the preparation for the sale.
The yard sale is the first Saturday in May. Preparation begins in earnest the summer before. Word gets out! Households that are downsizing or dissolving contact Grace to donate items for the sale. Persons moving from the area and into the area know they can call on Grace and donate, get large items moved and give back to the community. There is a large “pick-up” committee with strong backs, trucks and trailers.
For months before the sale the camp is swarming with volunteers sorting, organizing, testing and cleaning. Many, many plants are grown, dug and carefully tended. Volunteers from outside of the congregation show up and offer their services.
On the morning of the sale, the place comes alive at sunrise. The volunteers arrive, man the booths and buildings, rev up the grills and put ice in the coolers of beverages. Tarps come off of the boats, cars and equipment on the basketball court. Traffic begins to back up for the 8 a.m. opening, all the way from the camp to the town of Kilmarnock. Cars are admitted at about 30 at a time. The excitement is palpable!
Customers line up outside the buildings and around the outdoor booths. Then the frenzy begins.
Now this is where this sale differs from any other garage sale or tag sale.
The volunteers for this sale are made up not only of the members of the congregation, but of the community. Items are not just donated by households but by the local businesses. Services are not just bought but given freely.
Sales are not just made, but customers are assisted to cars with bags and furniture is loaded into trucks.
In 2009 a young lady was looking for a prom dress. When it was clear which one she loved, it became apparent that she could not afford it and it was given to her.
Charities such as Interfaith, Habitat for Humanity, The Haven and others are free to pick up items much needed by their communities. Families that have lost homes due to fire or flood are supported by the donations of furniture, bedding and clothing.
Bargains are abounding! Healthy plants, some donated by local nurseries and others carefully grown by helpers are sold for bargain prices. Crystal and silver, oriental rugs and furniture are very inexpensive compared to retail. Electronics and tools along with clothing are a steal. During the auction used cars and boats are sold for a fraction of their retail prices. All items are tested, cleaned and running before sales take place.
The whole event is over by 12 noon. Or is it??
As the crowds dwindle, the volunteers dig in. Cleanup begins in earnest. All areas must be organized, cleaned and cleared by that evening. Teams already overworked and with tired backs converge upon the dumpster. Brooms come out and tables are taken apart. Finally the cars of the workers leave the parking lot. It has been a long day. It has been a long 9 months in preparation. But it is not over!!
The magic of this whole sale is yet to come. Following the sale, organizations are encouraged through the church and articles in the newspaper to apply for grants. The Outreach Committee begins its process of sorting through the needs of the community and the distribution of the funds.
Awards of these grants are making a difference. In 2009, of the $40,000 dollars given to the community, the effects were as follows: Bay Aging, $2,000; Boys and Girls Club of the Northern Neck. $5,000; The Family Maternity Center of the Northern Neck, $4,449.25; The Haven Shelter and Services, $2,000; Hospice Support Services, $3,000; Lancaster Community Library Early Literacy Computing, $1,500; Lancaster and Northumberland Habitat for Humanity land acquisition, $5,000; Lancaster Northumberland Interfaith Service Council, $2,500; NN Family YMCA Guardian program, $5,000; Rivers Counties Chapter American Red Cross Disaster Relief, $5,000; and Three Rivers Healthy Families, $500.
Now talk about making a difference!! But there is no time for talk, for the Yard Sale is coming and we have a lot of work to do to get ready. It is going to be spectacular this year!
The Grace Yard Sale takes place on Saturday May 1st, 8 a.m. –12 Noon, Alexandria Boys Camp, Route 3, east of Kilmarnock…just follow the traffic. Come and support your community. Come and join us.