I am a proud member of Grace Episcopal Church in Rutherford and when I am searching for hope I recall a powerful precedent for the hope of human kindness and moral courage which was displayed nearly a century and half ago in the actions of a young Episcopal minister.
This incident occurred when a troubled Black couple lost their nine-year-old child to a deadly case of croup. Hannah and Daniel Gatewood had no church of their own and little money. They approached Rev. Nelson Boss, who was the newly appointed rector of Rutherford’s Grace Episcopal Church, a well-to-do White church, co-founded by the Rutherford family.
Rev. Boss agreed to conduct a memorial service for Jane Gatewood, held on January 19, 1879. The following day, the Gatewood’s buried their daughter at an all-Black cemetery in nearby Carlstadt. Possibly inspired by Rev Boss's dedication, Hannah Gatewood, a washerwoman with four other young children, later helped found the AME Church that exists to this day on Van Winkle Street in East Rutherford.
Rev. Boss, who began his ministry in 1871 as a lay assistant at Grace Episcopal, moved on to become rector of prestigious Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. He served as a trustee of General Theological Seminary and editor of The Book of Prayer for the Anglican Episcopal Church. Following his death on June 17, 1914, his gravestone epitaph imbues the hope he offered the Gatewood’s; “They rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”