Harold William Griffis – A Methodist Minister with Wit and Uncommon Sense: Part I

“His wit and uncommon sense approach to his messages give him place in the realm of those highly desired as public speakers “

– The Glens Falls Times, March 21, 1950, Page 6
Harold Griffis greeting parishioners
Harold Griffis greeting parishioners outside the church after service. Albany, NY circa 1959, click for larger view.

Overview: An Extensive Career within the Methodist Episcopal Church and Local Communities

Harold William Griffis had a deep compassion for his fellow man and in his belief in God, as reflected in his long and varied career as a Methodist minister [1] ; his work with local communities; and in the various positions he assumed in the church organization and in local business and community groups.

Proof photograph of Harold William Griffis

Professional proof photographs of Harold William Griffis when he was Superintendent of the Troy District. Click larger view of photo on the left.

For larger views of photos below: left hand photo | right hand photo

The following reflects the major milestones in his career within the Methodist Episcopal church. Part I of this story covers Harold’s pastoral roles with Jonesville and Grooms Churches.

YearPosition
1925Pastor of Jonesville Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) Church and Groom’s M.E. Church, NY
1928Pastor at Methodist M.E. Church in Williamstown, MA
1930Pastor at Trinity Church, Troy, NY
1938Pastor at the First Methodist Church, Amsterdam, NY
1940In addition to First Methodist Church, pastor of East Main M.E. Church, Amsterdam
1946District Superintendent of Troy District
1948Pastor at 5th Avenue & State Street Methodist Church, Troy, NY
1954District Superintendent of Albany District
1958 – 1961Pastor at Trinity Methodist Church, Albany, NY

Harold accepted everyone regardless of limitations or faults and his tacit aim was getting the best out of each individual. While he was a spiritual person and looked after the needs of his parishioners, we was down to earth, pragmatic, and business oriented in accomplishing church activities and local business needs. His ability to get along with all walks of life and his organizational skills led to various assignments within the church hierarchy and organization and local business community. In each of his pastoral assignments, Harold Griffis became part of the fabric of everyday activities of his parishioners and in the business and local community.

Harold’s close connections with his parishioners and local business communities were reflected in the scrapbooks he kept of newspaper stories of his parishioners and church activities. He would visit members of the church in weekly hospital visits and at home when there were family crisis or a death in the family. During World War II he personally visited families who lost loved ones in the war and visited soldiers that returned home or were in the hospital.

  • Harold Griffis Scrapbook
    Harold Griffis Scrapbook of newspaper articles related to his ministry.
A sample of obituaries of parishioners in Harold Griffis’ scrapbook, most of which he officiated in their respective funerals , click for larger view.
A sample of obituaries of parishioners in Harold Griffis’ scrapbook, click for larger view.

A review of the leadership he gave outside of the local church is impressive. During his early years, Harold Griffis was active in the Epworth League [2] along with his pastoral duties. He was also District Superintendent for the Troy District as well as for the Albany District. He also assumed duties in various district and national church organizations and Jurisdictional Conferences [3] [4]

During the 36 years of his active ministry with the Methodist Church he was a member of the four major boards of the Troy Methodist Conference: Education, Evangelism, Missions, and World Service, and Finance. During three of the four years on the Board of Missions Harold was the executive secretary. For six years he was on the Conference Secretary’s staff. He was chairman of the Cabinet throughout the four years as Albany District Superintendent. [5]

His ministry reached beyond the Troy Annual Conference. He represented Troy conference at the last sessions of the General Conference, heading the ministerial delegation in 1948, 1956 and 1960. He was a delegate to the Jurisdiction Conference from 1944 though 1960. He served on the Committee on Episcopacy two quadrenniums and on the Committee on Promotion and Cultivation one quadrennium. [5]

The following participation name tags or medals are reflective of Harold’s representation at regional and national Methodist conferences. Harold was a Methodist General Counsel leader from his respective districts various years. For example, he garnered a majority vote on the first round to represent the Troy conference at the 1956 national conference.

“The Rev. Harold Griffis, superintendent of the Albany District, won the designation as leader of the Troy Conference delegation to the General (national) Conference of the Methodist church to be held in 1956 in Minneapolis. He polled 76 votes on the first ballot seven more than were needed to register a majority.” [6]

  • 1948 General Conference
    1948 General Conference
  • 1956 General Conference
    1956 General Conference
  • Denver 1960 Methodist General Conference
    Denver 1960 Methodist General Conference
  • 1952 San Francisco Methodist General Conference
    1952 San Francisco Methodist General Conference
  • 1952 Carlisle Fourth Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference
    1952 Carlisle Fourth Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference
  • 1948 Third Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference
    1948 Third Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference
  • 1956 Fifth Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference
    1956 Fifth Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference
  • 1960 Sixth Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference
    1960 Sixth Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference
  • 1944 Second Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference
    1944 Second Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference

Harold also was on the board of managers for the Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, a trustee of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and was the former grand chaplain of the Masonic Grand Lodge of New York state. [7]

Proclamation from the Methodist Hospital of Brooklyn. Click for larger view.

  • Sunday School Centenary Offering
    Sunday School Centenary Offering
  • Sunday School Centenary Offering
    Sunday School Centenary Offering
  • Griff Kiwanas Club
    Griff Kiwanas Club
  • Griff Rotary Club
    Griff Rotary Club
Grand Chaplan Free Masons

Harold Griffis was a member of the Freemasons and was typically a Chaplain at their meetings and ceremonies. [8] According to family members, Harold had conflicting views of the rituals associated with the Freemasons but saw the importance of the organization in his role as pastor and as a spiritual leader in the local community.

The following is a photograph of Harold’s American Free Mason’s “Knights of Malta” Cross.

American Freemasons “Knights of Malta” cross. This was a Knights templar lodge medal typically from the 1930s-50s.
American Freemasons “Knights of Malta” cross. This was a Knights Templar Lodge medal typically presented to members from the 1930 to the 1950s .Click for larger view. [9]

In a eulogy to Harold Griffis, it was stated,

“Many remember his unusual skill in teaching the Bible and personal prayer; but the most thoughtful preparation to which Harold Griffis gave himself was in the field of corporate prayer. This is where so many of his parishioners will remember him at his best” [5]

Eloquent speaker The Glens Falls Times January 12 1955 Page 14

“A forceful and eloquent speaker with the ability to clothe spiritual truths in the cloak of humor…”

– The Glens Falls Times January 12 1955 Page 14

Harold’s gift of speaking was noted both in and out of the church, as reflected in this newspaper article.

“His wit and uncommon sense approach to his messages give him place in the realm of those highly desired as public speakers “

The Glens Falls Times, March 21, 1950, Page 6

Early Years

Harold Griffis graduated from Gloversville High School with a commercial diploma and initially worked in the Gloversville YMCA after high school graduation. Having decided to become a minister while he was a junior in high school, he realized the need to obtain a college degree. In his post high school graduate year he was tutored by his high school sweetheart, Evelyn Theresa Dutcher, to take the required college entrance exams to enter college. While Harold was working, Evelyn went on to teacher’s college immediately after they both graduated from high school.

My Creed Page One

My Creed

At an early age, Harold William Griffis gave his life to God and serving man. When he was a junior in high school, he decided he would enter the ministry.

He wrote a letter of testimony that he kept for himself at the age of 18 on December 10, 1921. It was in an envelope that he kept throughout his life. He reaffirmed his thoughts in the letter on February 15, 1923.

(See yer entire letter “My Creed”).

With Evelyn’s help, he passed the college entrance exams. Harold applied and was accepted to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

Harold William Griffis, Formal photograph while in college at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, probably his senior year. Click for larger view.
Formal photograph of Evelyn Dutcher as a senior in high school, Gloversville, NY. Click for larger view.

During his college years, he applied to the Troy Annual Conference of the Methodist Church to be accepted and ordained as a Preacher in 1920. During his sophomore year at Wesleyan University he was admitted as a trial pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church April 1923 . He became a Deacon in the church in 1925 and an Elder in 1927 [10]

The Glens Falls Times April-05 1923 Page 3

The Glens Falls Times, April 5, 1923, Thursday Evening, “Hudson Falls” Page 3 Click image for larger view.

Harold Griffis admitted as trial pastor excerpt The Glens Falls times April 07, 1923, Page 1

Harold Griffis admitted as trial pastor.

Excerpt from The Glens Falls Times April 7, 1923, Page 1

Local Preacher’s License for the Methodist Episcopal Church, signed by the Fremont St. Quarterly Conference of Troy, March 11, 1920. Click for larger view.
The backside of the Preacher’s License indicating the renewals to the license. Click for larger view.

Harold graduated from Wesleyan University in 1925 and was appointed as a minister and pastor to the Jonesville and Grooms Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) churches in New York state.

Church Elder’s Credentials for Harold Griffis, April 10, 1927. Click for larger view.
Diploma of Ministry from the Methodist Episcopal Church. Click for larger view.

Epworth League

Founded in 1889, the Epworth League is a Methodist young adult association for people aged 18 to 35. At its conception, the purpose of the League was “the promotion of intelligent and vital piety among the young people of the Church: to encourage and cultivate Christ-centered character in young adults around the world through community building, missions, and spiritual growth”. [2]

Harold and Evelyn were involved with the Epworth league as early as 1918. As Harold became more involved in the church, he and Evelyn assumed a variety of roles within the league. Typically they both participated in week long sessions in the summer months. Often these weekly sessions were staged at Riverside or Riparius, New York where eventually they purchased a summer cottage in the 1930’s. Eventually Harold became part of the faculty at local league events and was Dean of the Faculty for the Epworth League Institute in Poultry, Vermont in 1929 while he was Pastor at Groom’s church and Jonesville Church.

Photograph below: Harold Griffis (standing fourth from left) was Dean of the Epworth League Institute in Poultney, Vermont, 1929

Harold Griffis – Epworth League, 1929, fourth from the left back row. Hand written notes by Evelyn Griffis, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for enlarged view of photo.
Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.

The following is a pamphlet that provides a schedule of events and faculty at the Troy Conference Epworth League Institute at Round Lake, NY in the late summer of 1928. Harold Griffis was manager of the week long event as well as part of the faculty. Evelyn Griffis was also part of the faculty.

  • 1928 Epworth League 1928 Page 1
  • 1928 Epworth League Page 2

Below is a group photograph of participants at the Epworth League Institute, 1931. Harold and Evelyn are seated fifth and sixth from the left in the second row. The original photograph is 19.5 inches by 9.75 inches (source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view).

1925 – 1928: Church of Jonesville and Grooms Church, New York

Harold and Evelyn were married on Harold’s birthday June 29, 1926. After their wedding, they immediately left for his pastoral duties at the The First Methodist Episcopal Church in Jonesville, New York and the Groom’s M.E. Church. [12] Both churches were relatively close to each other. Groom’s church no longer exists. The map below shows the location of the Jonesville church (marked B) and where Groom’s church was located (marked A) in New York state just west of U.S. Route 87.

The parsonage, where Harold and Evelyn lived as newlyweds, was in Jonesville, New York. Below is a photograph of the Jonesville church and the parsonage in the winter of 1926.

Jonesville Church, winter 1926, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Jonesville Church Parsonage in the winter of 1926, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

While at Jonesville, Harold was Pastor when the church reached its 100th anniversary.

  • Jonesville M.E. Church 100th Anniversary
  • Jonesville M.E. Church 100th Anniversary
  • Jonesville M.E. Church 100th Anniversary

The following are photographs of the Jonesville Church Parsonage where Harold and Evelyn lived while he was pastor for the Groom’s and Jonesville Churches.

Jonesville M.E. Parsonage, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

The following photographs reflect social activities associated with pastoral and church roles: a clam bake to raise money for the church. Harold Griffis is standing on the right along with his father in law, Squire Dutcher to his left with the straw hat. Seated in this photograph is John Dutcher, Squire’s brother.

Groom’s Church

The church has roots back to 1788, when Groom’s Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in the Vischer Ferry area, though John Wesley had been sending preachers to Halfmoon, NY and Newton, NY since 1783. The original Newton Methodist Church was founded in 1830, West Crescent in 1835, and Crescent Methodist Church in 1852. In 1957, members of these four Methodist churches of the Clifton Park area voted to merge, combining their membership to reach a total of 361 members. [12]

About two miles from the Mohawk River in the south central part of Clifton Park, the church stood beside an old Indian trail which meandered northward from the ford in the Mohawk at Vischer’s Ferry. Situated on a hilltop, this tract of land (including the larger part of Clifton Park) was granted to five men on 17 September 1703 by Queen Anne.

On 1 Jan 1793, Richard Peters purchased two acres of the tract from James Murray and was one of the founders and organizers of the Old Clifton Park Church. Established in 1788 with many of the residents of Vischer Ferry and Grooms Corner as its members, it stood adjacent to the cemetery until February of 1975 when it was destroyed by fire.

The cemetery, known as the Grooms Methodist Church Cemetery as well as the McIntosh Cemetery is in the 1927 photograph below.

Cemetery at Groom’s M.E. Church. Personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Harold and Evelyn Griffis in front of Groom’s Church, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Construction of new addition on Groom’s M.E, Church while Harold was pastor, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Photograph of Grooms Methodist Church in 1926 building a new hall
Construction of a new hall on Groom’s M.E. church, with Evelyn Griffis in car on the right. Source: Evelyn Griffis personal scrapbook. Click for larger view.
Grooms Church – New Hall and Harold and Evelyn’s car, from scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
Groom’s M.E. Church 1925-1926. Personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Postcard of Groom’s Methodist Episcopal M.E. Church. Personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Grooms Church 1925, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Grooms Church 1926. Harold Griffis in the middle with hat in hand with parishioners, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
School of Theology Round Lake, New York July-19-24, 1926
School of Theology Round Lake, New York July-19-24, 1926, Harold Griffis is in the third row first on the left. Click for larger view. Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis.

The following photographs, from one of Evelyn Griffis’ scrapbooks, provides memories of a short vacation that Harold and Evelyn had at Caroga Lake in 1927.

Harold and Evelyn visiting family in Gloversville July 6, 1929, from scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.

The following is a photograph of Harold and Evelyn with some of their contemporaries. All are in their late 20’s, starting careers and new families.

From personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

Sources

Featured Image at top of story: Click for enlarged full view of photograph. Round Lake Epworth League Institute August 14-22-1926, Harold Griffis is sitting in the front row, fifth person from the left; and Evelyn Dutcher Griffis is standing in the second row, fourth person from the left.

This story is partly based on material from a book originally published on the life of Harold Griffis as a Methodist minister, see James F. Griffis (Ed.), Sermons, Notes and Letters of Harold William Griffis, Self published, Blurb: Oct, 2018

[1] The Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) was the oldest and largest Methodist denomination in the United States from its founding in 1784 until 1939. It was also the first religious denomination in the US to organize itself on a national basis. In 1939, the MEC reunited with two breakaway Methodist denominations (the Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South) to form the Methodist Church

[2] Founded in 1889, the Epworth League is a Methodist young adult association for people aged 18 to 35. It had its beginning at Cleveland’s Central Methodist Church on May 15, 1889. Before that year, as many as five young people’s organizations existed in the Methodist Episcopal church, among them the Methodist Alliance, claiming 20,000 members in 1883; the Oxford League, organized at the Methodist Centennial Conference, with a large chapter at Central Methodist Church; and the Young People’s Christian League. The league, which soon spread worldwide, divided its social service into 6 departments: Spiritual Life, Social Work, Literary Work, Correspondence, Mercy and Help, and Finance. Local chapters organized Fresh Air Work (day camps for city children), literary events, lecture series, and fellowship gatherings.  

  • See: Epwoth League, Wikipedia, Page updated 30 March 2021, page accessed 26 April, 2021; Encyclopedia of Cleveland History,
  • Epworth League, Case Western Reserve University, Page accessed 20 Apr, 2021;
  • A Little About Us, Epworth League, Page accessed 20 Apr 2021.

[3] Jurisdictional Conferences are a collection of Annual Conferences of The United Methodist Church located inside the United States. The constitution of The United Methodist Church established five jurisdictions within the United States and it specifies which states will be a part of each. Each jurisdiction is responsible for boundaries of annual conferences within those states and electing its own bishops.

See: Jurisdictional conferences (United Methodist Church), Wikipedia, Page updated 26 Jan 2021, page accessed 28 Apr 2021.

[4] See, for example, a newspaper article indicating his role as Assistant Secretary to an annual Troy Conference early in his career, The Glens Falls Times April 12, 1928 Page 11

[5] Brochure: Trinity Methodist Church Memorial Service for Harold William Griffis November 26, 1961:

Harold Griffis Memorial Service Page One
Harold Griffis Memorial Service Page Two
Harold Griffis Memorial Service Page Three
Harold Griffis Memorial Service Page Four

[6] The Glens Falls Times May 6 1955 Page 2.

The Glens Falls times May 06 1955 Page 2

[7] Harold’s various roles in organizations were mentioned in an obituary in The Glens Falls Times, July 01, 1961, Page 5:

[8] F and AM stands for Free and Accepted Masons. For more information on F. & A.M. see AF and AM vs F and AM States, Page accessed 28 Apr 2021.

[9] The Knights Templar, full name The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta, is a fraternal order affiliated with Freemasonry. Unlike the initial degrees conferred in a regular Masonic Lodge, which (in most Regular Masonic jurisdictions) only require a belief in a Supreme Being regardless of religious affiliation, the Knights Templar is one of several additional Masonic Orders in which membership is open only to Freemasons who profess a belief in Christianity.

[10] Dates of appointments from the Directory and Pastoral Record , Troy Conference 1957.

See also newspaper article on his appointment as elder, The Lake Placid news., April 22, 1927, Page 3

The following provides an explanation of the difference between Deacons, Elders and Pastors in the Methodist church.

Elders are ordained to a “ministry of word, sacrament, order and service”. They preach and teach God’s word, provide pastoral care, administer sacraments of baptism and communion, and order the life of the church. Deacons are ordained to a “ministry of word, service, compassion and justice”. Like elders they preach and teach and provide pastoral care, but they do not administer sacraments. They are called to a ministry that brings the church into the world — and the world into the church. Susan Keaton, Deacons: Bridging the church and the world, 3 Oct 2016, Page accessed 1 May 2021.

An elder, in many Methodist Churches, is ordained minister that has the responsibilities to preach and teach, preside at the celebration of the sacraments, administer the Church through pastoral guidance, and lead the congregations under their care. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church states that:

Elders are ministers who have completed their formal preparation for the ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order; have been elected itinerant members in full connection with an Annual Conference; and have been ordained elders in accordance with the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

The Order of Elder and the Order of Deacon differ in function. To borrow from medical terminology, Elders are generalists, while Deacons are specialists. See Order of Deacon and Order of Elder Similarities, Page accessed 1 May 2021.

A pastor is the ordained or licensed person who has been appointed by the bishop to be in charge of a local church or churches. The pastor in this formal sense is the official representative of the Annual Conference and is responsible for serving effectively in the ministry of “Word, Sacrament, and Order” in that appointment. In a less formal sense, pastor is a title synonymous with minister.

[12] History of Jonesville Church, Jonesville United Methodist Church, Page accessed 23 Apr 2021;

See also: Shenendehowa United Methodist Church, Wikipedia, Page accessed 15 May 2021

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