Harold William Griffis – A Methodist Minister with the Ability to Clothe Spiritual Truths in the Cloak of Humor: Part III

Best Wishes from your Home Church Folks

This is the third part of the story of Harold Griffis as a Methodist minister and pastor.

The following reflects the major milestones in his career within the Methodist Episcopal church. The first part of the story covered Harod’s career up through his pastoral duties with the Jonesville Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) Church and Groom’s M.E. Church from 1925 – 1928. Part III of the story resumes with his career in 1938 in Amsterdam, New York

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

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

The Glens Falls Times, Jan 12, 1955, Page 14

The quote in the title of part II of this story is from a newspaper article in 1955 that captures one of the unique qualities Harold Griffis had as a speake. Harold was adept at translating lofty, spiritual concepts into pragmatic terms and everyday experiences. He had a great sense of humor and usually incorporated his wit in his talks. The speech was given at a local Kiwanis Club meeting when Harold was a superintendent of the Albany District of the Troy Conference of the Methodist Church. Harold provided a message on the importance of individual responsibility. He stated that the most important thing in the world is “what I deliver – not our statement of high ideals”. 

1938 – 1946: First Methodist Church and East Main M.E. Church, Amsterdam, New York

Harold was appointed to serve the First Methodist Church in Amsterdam in 1938. The parsonage was next door to the church and across from the Amsterdam junior high school. Two years later, as indicated in the April 1, 1940 newspaper article below, Harold was also appointed to serve as pastor to the East Main M.E. church in Amsterdam.

Source: Personal scrapbook of Harold Griffis. Click for larger view.
Newspaper article on Harold Griffis and his retention of pastor duties at First Methodist Church in Amsterdam. Click for Larger view.
First Methodist Church, Amsterdam, NY, from personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
First Methodist Church, Amsterdam, NY, scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.

The following is a church program when Harold was pastor of the First Methodist Church.

Click for larger view.

The following is a newspaper article by Hugh P. Donlon, a reporter and historian from Amsterdam. He started his ‘Main Street’ column in 1931. [1] This newspaper scrapbook article from 1938 captures Harold Griffis’ two worlds, the spiritual and the mundane world of dealing with earthly problems. The original article was kept by James D. Griffis.

Click for larger view.
Harold ‘resting his eyes’ while reading. Click for larger view.

A few of Harold and Evelyns’ friends were part of a small circle affectionately called, ‘June Bugs’ since the couples were all married in June. The following photograph was taken by Harold. Back row: Ernest Tripp, Frank Bevan, Cassius Miller; front row: Frances Bevan, Louella Miller, Evelyn Griffis, Margaret Tripp. Ernest, Frank and Cassius were methodist ministers.

Ministers and wives having fun switching hats. Click for larger view.

Harold Griffis, second from right, with young parishioners in Amsterdam, NY. His son James Dutcher Griffis is second to the left in the back row.

Click for larger view.

Evelyn Griffis, fourth from the right, with young parishioners. James Dutcher Griffis is second to the left.

Click for larger view.

Harold Griffis, far right, and his sons James D., to his left, and John H., third from the left back row, circa 1946.

Harold Griffis with James D Griffis and John H Griffis circa 1946
Click for larger view.

1948 – 1954: 5th Avenue & State Street Methodist Church, Troy NY

Harold’s next assignment was the pastor duties at the 5th Avenue and State Street Methodist Church in Troy, New York. The pastoral relations committee of the church requested Bishop Newell to appoint Harold as their pastor. As Evelyn recounted in a biographical letter, Harold reluctantly agreed to the reassignment.

At the Annual Troy Conference Harold was appointed District Superintendent of the Troy District. As district lines had been changed, there was no parsonage. The family had to buy a house. Harold and Evelyn found a house at 1631 Tibbetts Avenue in Troy, New York. 

The church had a long history. The Methodists of State Street were outgrowing their second church building that was built in 1827. The State Street Methodists embarked on a new building campaign. In what Joseph Hillman named the “Last Church” for the Troy Methodists, a church of gigantic proportions was designed and constructed. It included seating for 900. The gothic structure was completed in March 1871. The 175 foot high spire towered the Troy skyline. The building was constructed of blue limestone. [2]

Photograph with the following inscription on back: “Just an “Hello” from us after church one Sunday morning. Our prayers and best wishes are with you wherever you go.” – “Your Home Church Folks”, click for larger view.
Post Card of the Fifth Avenue and State Street methodist Church in Troy, NY, click for larger view.
Fifth Avenue State Street Methodist Church Troy New York
Illustration of the Fifth Avenue State Street Methodist Church when Harold Griffis was the pastor. Click for larger view.
Harold Griffis and Pastor Chaplin Troy Methodist conference sessions
Click for larger view.
Pastor ends six years of service
Harold leaves Fifth Ave-State Street Methodist Church to become District Superintendent, click for larger view.

1954 -1958: District Superintendent of the Albany NY district

In 1954, Bishop Frederick Newell appointed Harold as District Superintendent of the Albany District. The parsonage was on Van Rensselaer Boulevard, Albany, New York. His office was in the Trinity Methodist Church on the corner of Lark and Lancaster. 

“Trinity Church’s current name and location date back to 1867. Yet the history of the congregation extends much further—to the first Methodist preaching in Albany by Captain Thomas Webb in 1765. Since the establishment of the First Methodist society in 1789, our congregation has had more than ten different homes. The many buildings that have housed Trinity demonstrate that the church is not just a place but a vibrant community that is committed to each other and to the spirit we share.”

“That commitment was tested in 1901 and again in 1931, when Trinity suffered devastating fires. Both times, the congregation chose to stay together and rebuild. The current building, completed in 1933, contains several references to the church’s past, including stained glass depictions of Methodist history and wood carvings that represent our historical ties with Beth Emeth Temple and other area congregations.” [3]

The following series of photographs of the Trinity M.E. Church on Lark and Lancaster Streets were from a commemorative Services of Dedcation booklet who the new church was dedicated in 1933. [4]

1958: Pastor at Trinity Methodist Church, Albany, NY

After four years as Albany District Superintendent, the Pastoral Relations Committee of the 5th Avenue State Street Methodist Church requested Bishop Oxman to appoint Harold Griffis as their pastor. Harold agreed and the family was in Albany for the remainder of his career. 

Photograph from personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, Click for Larger view.
Photograph from personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, Click for Larger view.

Harold discussing religious matters with one of the many speakers he brought to the church.

Source: personal scrapbook. Click for larger view.

In Search of Motivational Speakers

Throughout his career as a pastor, minister and local leader in the business community, Harold Griffis brought notable as well as controversial figures to speak at various occasions. For example, he had Norman Thomas (November 20, 1884 – December 19, 1968), an American Presbyterian minister who achieved fame as a socialist, pacifist, and six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America. [5]

Correspondence from Norman Thomas to Harold Griffis. Click for larger view.

One another occasion, Harold attempted to have Eddie Rickenbacker speak at the Amsterdam Community Forum. Edward Vernon Rickenbacker was an American fighter ace in World War I and a Medal of Honor recipient. With 26 aerial victories, he was the United States’ most successful fighter ace in the war and is considered to have received the most awards for valor by an American during the war. [6]

Correspondence from Eddie Rickenbacker. Click for larger view.

As superintendent of the Albany District, Harold hosted Bishop Newells on part of his circuit speaking engagement regarding his overseas relief efforts.

The Glens FallsTimes October 22 1954 Page 3. Click for larger view.

Harold’s Legacy

In 1961, Harold suffered a stroke and died the day after his birthday, June 30, 1961. He was buried in the family plot at Ferndale Cemetery, Johnstown, New York June 2, 1961. 

Click for larger view.

Around the Thanksgiving holiday in 1961, a memorial service was held and a plaque dedicated to Harold Griffis was placed in the Fifth Avenue State Street Trinity Methodist Church in Troy, New York. The plaque can still be found in the hallway of the church. [7]

The Times Record, Troy, New York November 24, 1961, Page 11

A Harold W. Griffis Memorial Fund for scholarships for students at the newly established Alaska Methodist University was started at the same time. The goal was to establish a $25,000 fund for student loans. Six local area Methodists churches were part of he fundraising committee. Below is the pamphlet presentation on the Memorial Fund, November 1961.

Alaska Methodist University was a newly established university when Harold died. During the 1952-1956, the Quadrennium of the Methodist Church determined developmental phases of establishing an Alaska university.

Alaska Methodist University (in 1978 it became the Alaska Pacific University) is located on what originally was used as Da’naina Indian land for a subsistence. Efforts began as early as 1952 to establish a Methodist University. Eleven communities offered sites for the college. Anchorage was chosen for the location for the University. Citizens of Anchorage purchased a 242 acre site from the Federal government in 1955 and presented the gift to the Division of National Missions of the Methodist Church.

A dedication for the campus of Alaska Methodist University was held June 29, 1958 (which incidentally was Harold’s birthday) in Anchorage, just one day before statehood celebrations (on June 30, 1958 the United States Senate passed the Alaska Statehood bill by a vote of 64-20). The doors opened at Alaska Methodist University on Friday, September 30, 1960 and classes started October 3, 1960. [8]

Sources

Featured Image at top of story: The photograph is a blow up of a portion of a small photograph with the following inscription on back: “Just an “Hello” from us after church one Sunday morning. Our prayers and best wishes are with you wherever you go.” – “Your Home Church Folks”, click for larger of the blow up portion of the photograph. The photograph and inscription on the back reflects the positive influence that Harold and Evelyn had on parishioners, wherever they landed based on the decisions fo the local Bishops of the Methodist Church.

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] Cudmore, Bob, Reporter Donlon preserved Amsterdam history, June 14, 2014, The Daily Gazette, page accessed August 2, 2021.[

2] Hillman, Joseph, The History of Methodism in Troy, N.Y. NewYork: Moss Engraving Company, 1888, Page 58-82

[3] History of Trinity United Methodist Church, website, accessed 8 Jun 2021

[4] Services of Dedication, Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, Albany, New York, September 17, 1933, 38 page booklet on the dedication of the new church building.

[5] Norman Thomas, Wikipedia, Page updated 21 Mar 2021, page accessed 22 Apr 2021.

[6] Eddie Rickenbacker, Wikipedia, Page updated 20 Apr 2021 page accessed 23 Apr, 2021.

[7] The Times Record, Troy, New York, November 25, 1961

[8] Larry Hayden, History of Alaska Methodist University 1948 – 1977 Alaska Pacific University 1978 – 2008, April 2008 The Alaska Conference A Missionary Conference of The United Methodist Church

Cudmore, Bob, Reporter Donlon preserved Amsterdam History Daily Gazette, June 2014. https://dailygazette.com/2014/06/14/reporter-donlon-preserved-amsterdam-history/

Harold William Griffis – A Methodist Minister – one of the younger members who has established an enviable record: Part II

Epworth League 1930 Harold as Dean

This is the second part of the story of Harold Griffis as a Methodist minister and pastor.

The following reflects the major milestones in his career within the Methodist Episcopal church. The first part of the story covered Harod’s career up through his pastoral duties with the Jonesville Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) Church and Groom’s M.E. Church from 1925 – 1928. Part II of the story resumes with his career in 1928 at the Methodist M.E. Church in Williamstown, Massachusetts and at the First Methodist Church in Troy, New York (indicated in bold face below).

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

1928 – 1930: Williamstown Massachusetts

After their productive years serving the Grooms M.E. Church and the Jonesville M.E. Church, Evelyn and Harold moved to Williamstown, Massachusetts where Harold was the pastor at the Methodist Church for two years.

Harold and Evelyn Griffis circa 1930's
Harold and Evelyn circa 1930, click for larger view.

The first Methodist church in Williamstown was originally a white frame building erected in 1845. The lot for the building, which in later years was fitted with a stage and  became known as the Opera House, was acquired by Summer Southworth, a manufacturer of cotton goods.

When the congregation grew and required a larger building, Southworth contributed $8,000 toward building the red brick church, which cost $13,000, aside from the lot and furnishing. The church was dedicated on March 6, 1872.

Southworth also gave the Methodists a gift of music, an Opus 447 pipe organ manufactured by the William A. Johnson and Son Co. of Westfield. [1] The photograph was taken by Evelyn Griffis, (personal scrapbook). Click for larger view.

Pipe Organ in Williamstown ME Church, photo from Evelyn Griffis scrapbook. Click for larger view.
Post Card of Williamstown M.E. Church 1930, from personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
Williamstown Parsonage next to the church on Main Street 1929, from scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
A view of Main Street in Williamstown, MA 1930 from scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

Today, the Williamstown church still stands but it is now the Williamstown Community Preschool center. The parsonage no longer exists. Where the parsonage once stood, adjacent to the church, there is now used as a playground for the preschoolers (for larger views of photographs: photo one, two, three, and four.)

The following is a Lenten Program from the Williamstown church when Harold was the pastor.

Click for larger view.
Click for larger view.

The following is a pamphlet from the Williamstown church on religious questions for discussion at Sunday evening service. The questions reflect Harold’s interest in engaging his parishioners on spiritual issues that were defined or viewed through current events and daily life experiences. It perhaps also indicates that Harold was a keen observer of community attitudes and his desire to understand the values held by his parishioners.

Click for larger view.
Click for larger view.

While a pastor at the Williamstown M.E. Church, Harold was also deeply involved with the Epworth League and was Dean of the Epworth League Pultney Institute each summer. [2]

1930 – 1938: Trinity Church, Troy, NY

His career as a pastor continued with an eight year assignment at the Trinity Church in Troy, New York. The following newspaper article provides a cogent summary of his accomplishments at Jonesville and Grooms churches, prior to his pastoral duties in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Williamstown newspaper clipping, personal scrapbook of Harold Griffis. Click for larger view.
Trinity Church Steeple click for larger view

Troy, New York had a long history of Methodist congregants and churches. The first church was built in in the early 1800’s. As the Methodists grew in number, additional churches were started throughout Troy. Members of the original State Street church organized many of these churches. By 1860 there were nine Methodist churches. In addition to State Street Methodist Episcopal Church there was North Second Street (later named Fifth Avenue), Congress Street (later named Trinity), Third Street, Levings Chapel, Albia, North Troy, German, and Zion. [3]

Trinity Church, Troy, NY, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Trinity Church, Troy NY 1930, from Scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.

The Trinity Methodist Episcopal church was formerly known as the Congress Street church.

“The Methodist Episcopal Church on Congress Street, Troy, N. Y., was organized in the month of October, 1846, in the following manner: Several persons from the State Street Methodist Episcopal Church, and the North Second Methodist Episcopal Church, came with certificates from the pastors of those churches to Rev. Oliver Emerson, pastor of the Third Street Church, and wished to come under his care and to be formed into a class to meet in Congress Street, Ida Hill. They were received and a class was formed under the care of Stephen Monroe and William H. Robbins.” [3]

In June 1847, an old blacksmith shop on the south side of Congress Street at an intersection with Ferry Street, was reconstructed for a house of worship. It was called the “Hemlock Church”. On its completion, the Sunday school of the society, began holding its sessions in the new meeting house.  Desiring a larger structure, the congregants built a larger church of brick on the north side of Thirteenth Street, near the intersection with Congress Street. The corner stone of the brick church was laid in October, 1848. The building was originally dedicated on July 12, 1849. [4]

Illustration of Trinity M.E. Church from Hillman, Joseph, The History of Methodism in Troy, N.Y. NewYork, Page 103

The pews in the church were free and no rentals for sittings were  imposed or collected. The entire cost of the site, building and furniture was $6,199.84. The church was enlarged in 1860, accommodating two hundred more people. The building was then rededicated by the Rev. Bishop Matthew Simpson. Two years later, the Sunday school rooms were enlarged at a cost of $600. In 1880, the church was renovated and the corner towers were added along with other architectural features, at a cost of $14,084.94. The building was rededicated December 28, 1880. [5]

Harold’s Diary

The photographs below are pages from Harold’s personal diary book of 1936 when he was pastor at Trinity Church. They reflect ‘days in the life of a pastor’, what he typically experienced and did on a daily basis as a pastor. He visited parisoners at home, in hospitals, and at his office at the church. He also provided sermons not only at his church but at other churches within and outside of the Methodist Episcopal circle and provided prayers and talks at business gatherings. He also met with various community groups and organizations.

From the Diary of Harold Griffis. Click for larger view.

Thursday, January 16, 1938: Worked in the study all morning.  In the afternoon I spoke at Mrs. Thomas’ prayer group which met at Mrs. Swensson’s. Walked up and back. Afterwards went down and got a haircut.

The Life Lights put on a sauerkraught supper. I worked in the kitchen and had a grand time. There was a very poor crowd at the supper. I think they made around $5. Another beautiful day.  Just cold enough to be snappy.

Friday, January 17, 1938: Went to the bank this morning and borrowed $350 to pay up the bills that have accumulated. We have resolved to follow a ‘pay-as-you-go” policy from now on.  It hardly seems possible that all unconsciously anyone would get so far behind.

The new bulletin came early in the afternoon and I spent the rest of the day arranging to have it hung.  Took a short walk with Evelyn and the boys.

Had a discussion group until 8.  Then came home and wrote and read.

A beautiful, clear day.

From personal diary of Harold Griffis. Click for larger view.

February 5, 1936: Went to Albany in the morning and had lunch there. Made some calls in afternoon. Mid-week service – 26 (attended).  Official Board & third Quarterly Conference.  I was called back for another year.

February 6, 1936: In the study in the morning. Capt. Mugford came to see me about becoming Pres. of the Board of the City Mission.  I spent the afternoon looking into it.  Talked with Neitzel and Dr. Kelley and decided not to do it. Spent the evening at home. 

Sunday May 3rd: 171 – at morning service. H.S. on behalf of the Finance Committee presented us with $100.  In the afternoon the Smiths took us out to see Stones poultry farm in Stephentown.  After League they came in for supper. Very warm …

Monday May 4th: Preacher’s meeting in AM. Worked on emergency Peace Campaign in afternoon.  Broadcast an announcement over WHAZ in the evening.  This was my first broadcast. Probably it will be my only one.  Started furnace again today. Very cold.

The right hand photograph, taken from the same 1936 year diary, contains two pages for Sunday, April 19, 1936 and Monday, April 20, 1936. 

Sunday April 19: Exchanged pulpits with Ernest Ryder. Talked with Frank Hines after service and he told me Trinity did not want me to go.  E. And I went back to Saratoga for dinner.  The Pastoral Committee met me at 4:30 at the hotel to re-enforce what Frank said. Had Mother and George at the hotel for supper.

Monday April 20: Had dinner with the Bucklands at the Gloss Restaurant in Schuylerville. Came to Troy. I went down to the “Y” finance dinner at night and then came back and worked on my mail.  “R.O.” came in to talk about the Conference and the proposed change.

The two photographs below also depict activities in Harold’s daily life in 1936. The left hand photograph provides his activities on June 14th and 15th. The right hand photograph provides his observations on his activities on June

Sunday June 14: Children’s Day. 205 att. A very nice service.  James and John spoke their first pieces. I baptized four babies.  It rained in the afternoon.  In the evening E and I went over to see the Bucklands.

Monday, June 15: Played golf in the morning

Wednesday, June 10: The Life-lights had a picnic at the Farm 45 men and women there. Played softball and volleyball. Everyone had a good time. Played golf in the morning with Ryder. Father Simpson of St. Augustine’s played a round with us.

Thursday, June 11: Got out a letter in the morning. H.S. took us out to dinner in the evening. Went to Riley’s up on Saratoga Lake.

The following photograph was taken in 1934. Harold and Evelyn was dressed for a formal event.

Source: Personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

The following is a church program when Harold was pastor of the First Methodist Church.

Sources

Featured Image at top of story: Group photograph of Epworth League participants and faculty win 1930. Harold Griffis, Dean, in the center of the front Row. Evelyn is also in the photograph in the top row fourth from the left. Click for larger view.

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] Phyllis McGuire, Williamstown Methodists Reflect on Church’s History, iBerskshires.com, November 28, 2010

[2] Harold Griffis, Dean of Pultney Institute, Epworth League, The Granville Sentinel., December 28, 1928, Page 6

[3] Rev. James A. Fenimore, A Church on the Edge of an Apocalypse, Term Paper, December 30, 1998 referenced at Christ Church UMC, Troy, New York website. Page 5-6

See also: Hillman, Joseph, The History of Methodism in Troy, N.Y. NewYork: Moss Engraving Company, 1888

[4] Hillman, Joseph, The History of Methodism in Troy, N.Y. NewYork: Moss Engraving Company, 1888, Page 102

[5] Hillman, Joseph, The History of Methodism in Troy, N.Y. NewYork: Moss Engraving Company, 1888, Page 102

History of Trinity United Methodist Church, website, accessed 8 Jun 2021