At the end of the nineteenth century, if a resident of Osterville wished to attend an Episcopal service, one had to travel ten miles to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Barnstable, which was founded in 1888. This was hardly a convenient trip and as Osterville grew, some of its Episcopal communicants gift together and in the spring of 1903 they formed a summer chapel. A report by the first minister, the Rev. Joseph C. Ayer, Jr. stated, “In the late spring of 1903, an Episcopal Chapel was erected in the Wianno area of Osterville on a suitable lot which was well situated and easily accessible from all parts of the summer colony, which was given by two gentlemen interested in the place. Funds were subscribed, and a loan contracted so that the building might be put up at once.” All this was done with the approval of St. Mary’s Church, Barnstable. These two gentlemen were Gordon Shillito and Thomas Gaff. Four years later, Mr. Shillito established for the chapel a small endowment fund of $5,000 in memory of his late wife. This summer chapel, now somewhat enlarged, still exists as a church and was on the same piece of land as the current building. It was formally dedicated by Rt. Rev. William Lawrence, Bishop of Massachusetts, on July 3, 1904. Adjacent property on Crystal Lake Road was acquired in 1912, with its residence used as a rectory through 1975.
Thus, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Osterville came into existence first as a summer chapel. It seems now amazing that this Chapel should have remained active and useful only in the summer months for 72 years, but such was the case. Mainly this was a reflection of the nature of the congregation for much of this period. Many of the communicants were summer residents who attended other urban churches most of the year, and the chapel itself had a limited program. There were just two services on Sundays, morning communion and an eleven o’clock service with a sermon. There was no Sunday school or social outreach program. However, during those early years there was a very active children’s choir and in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a small adult choir.
Two members of the Episcopal clergy were dominant in those early years of St. Peter’s Chapel. The first was Joseph Cullen Ayer, Jr., who was the minister from 1903 to 1921, and the second was Duncan H. Browne of Chicago who was in charge for the longer period 1926 to 1951. Other clergy-in-charge for shorter intervals were Appleton Grannis, Frank W. Crowder, Elmer Nelson Bowie, and Laurens MacLure. They were followed by James A. Paul 1952-1956, James R. MacColl, III, 1957-1963, Clarke K. Oler, 1964-1969, and Robert N. Wainwright, 1969-1975. It was in July 1969 that Sunday morning summer services also began at Crystal Lake, the result of a decision by Rev. Clarke K. Oler. This proved to be enduring and highly popular.
The move to a full time church began in the 1960’s when in 1964, Mrs. Kathleen Jones Alexander undertook to leave her property on Wianno Avenue to the Diocese of Massachusetts for the benefit of St. Peter’s Chapel, with the understanding that she could occupy the property during her lifetime. A gradual movement to change the status of St. Peter’s from a chapel to a church resulted in a vote by the membership in 1975 to winterize the building and operate as a twelve-month facility. Mrs. Alexander generously agreed to the sale of her Wianno Avenue property with the proceeds to help finance the transition. Retired Bishop Nelson Burroughs of Chatham came every Sunday the first winter of 1975-1976 to conduct services. On November 13, 1976, St. Peter’s was admitted to a full parish category, the first instance of a parish in the Diocese being directly admitted without several years of trial mission status.
The past 27 years have seen a steady growth in the activities of the church and its effectiveness in the larger community. There are many active committees; such as, altar guild, flower guild, hospitality, lay readers, outreach, etc. Vincent W. Warner became the first full time rector in 1976 and a Sunday school and a nursery school were started, home and hospital visits to ailing parishioners were undertaken, and an adult education program initiated.
A new enlarged church and parish house were dedicated by Bishop John Coburn on July 19, 1981. In June 1985, Bishop Coburn dedicated St. Peter’s Memorial Garden, which is located in the central courtyard for the burial of ashes. Ashes are interred either in the ground within the Daffodil Garden or in niches built in the Wall Garden. The James A. Paul library was created in 1981. A new organ was installed in 1986 and subsequently the church choir and music program were led most effectively by Karen Crosby.
In the meantime, the affairs of St. Peter’s were in the hands of a series of capable vestries and clergy. As regards the latter, Vincent Warner, 1976-1981, was succeeded by W. Raymond Webster, 1981-1993, Robert M. Ross, 1995-1999 and now, Timothy B. Cherry who came in 2000. Other clergy members acted in interim capacities, but special mention should be made of Eugene Goetichus had retired from the Episcopal Theological School, but then during the past ten years returned to active duty at St. Peter’s as an admired associate rector. The administrative functions were capably handled by Barbara Abbt for the past twenty-six years.
Thus, St. Peter’s Church looks back one hundred years with a mixture of wonder, satisfaction, and anticipation for the future. One small church has won for itself a special place in the larger Cape Cod community and should only move forward successfully with a goal of service and humility.
St. Peter’s Memorial Garden
When plans were being made in 1979-80 to build an addition to St. Peter’s Church (parish hall, offices, and Sunday School rooms), there were requests that consideration be given to include a burial site for ashes as part of the landscape design of the Church grounds. The Garden was financed by many private donations and was designed by Phyllis W. Cole, Landscape Designer and parishioner. Bishop John Coburn officiated at the Dedication Service on June 30th, 1985.
The Memorial Garden was created for the burial of ashes of parishioners of St. Peter’s – either in the ground in the Daffodil Garden inside the fence along Wianno Avenue or in urns placed in the center wall. There are at this time more than fifty internments. The names of those interred are posted on the wall opposite the staircase in the “Memorial Garden Room.” Members of the congregation tend the flower beds during the summer months. Volunteers are always welcome. If you wish to join them, inquire at the church office.
Our garden is a lovely and restful addition to our parish life. For those who have ashes of relatives buried in the Garden it is also a comfort to know that their loved ones continue to be surrounded by our active parish life.