DALTON >> In 1889, the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts noted "encouraging results" after a number of services were held in the "flourishing town of Dalton."
Three years later, in 1892, the town recognized Grace Episcopal Church and its 21 members. It would gain parish status in 1947, admitted during a Diocesan Convention in Springfield.
During its century-plus period of activity, Grace Episcopal earned a reputation for its close-knit congregation, fairs, delicious suppers, and the welcoming environment members provided new ministers, Alcoholics Anonymous groups and many others.
The story comes to an end on Sunday when the church will celebrate a "last goodbye" in a final, "elaborate service," Chris Faye, clerk of the church's Governing Body, said.
An "aging, dwindling" congregation and the lack of a pastor played heavily into the Governing Body's August decision to close the church at the end of the year. The doors of the building will close a final time on Dec. 31, after which the diocese hopes to sell the property.
"We have many faithful, hardworking members, and it was not an easy decision to make," Faye said. "There are some young people, but not enough to hold everything together looking ahead."
Faye added, "We've been active in this community for many, many years, and had a big impact with our mission and outreach, not just on fellow Episcopalians, but all members of the community."
The church is located at 791 Main St., near the intersection of Routes 8 and 9. Despite the closing, services still draw roughly 30 people on average and the church has a mailing list of 80. Members come from Dalton and surrounding towns Washington, Hinsdale, Becket, Peru, Windsor and Middlefield.
One of several priests who got his start at Grace Episcopal was the Rev. Thomas Damrosch, currently of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Stockbridge, who will attend Sunday's final service as a celebrant.
"It's a wonderful bunch of folks who made a courageous decision," Damrosch said. "I'm sure it will be a sad moment, but there will be a lot to celebrate, too."
He added, "[Grace Episcopal] was the first church I was in charge of back in the early '90s. There were quite a few others who were helped along in building their ministry by Grace as well. They have a track record of being a very nurturing place."
Another priest who received her start at Grace Episcopal, Rev. Jane Tillman, will say Sunday's service.
The Right Rev. Gordon P. Scruton, the retired former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, also got his start running Grace Episcopal.
Sunday's service begins at 9 a.m.