Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church was organized on October 27, 1842, by a group of people who felt the need for an Episcopal Church in the Central Square area of Cambridge. At the time Christ Church, Harvard Square, was the only Episcopal Church in Cambridge. Saint Peter’s served the swelling working population of Central Square and began its long history of leadership on social justice issues and commitment to the diverse population of Central Square, Cambridge, and the diocese as a whole.
From 1842 until 1941, the parish expanded under the leadership of thirteen rectors and lay leaders with vision and energy. The first church was constructed in 1844, and the current building was constructed in 1867. The first 100 years began with The Rev. Darius R. Brewer as the parish’s first rector and concluded with The Rev. Frederic C. Lawrence, later the Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts.
In response to increasing growth and demand for space in the church school program, the parish house was built in 1931. The parish church itself was significantly remodeled and expanded in 1932. The church continued to grow at a rapid rate well into the 1940s, when the church school had over 450 children. At that time Saint Peter’s was one of the largest parishes in the diocese.
The parish is blessed with stunning stained glass windows, all of which were beautifully executed and remain in very good condition. The first of the parish’s magnificent stained glass windows was added in 1917 by the famous stained glass window firm Wilbur Herbert Burnham of Boston. In the mid-1930s, two windows from the Connick Stained Glass Window firm of Boston were added. The very large three-paneled window above the High Altar is a magnificent example of Connick stained glass. The lovely and delicate St. Elizabeth of Hungary window was added to the enclosed St. Elizabeth Chapel.
The parish celebrated its 100th anniversary in October 1942 under the leadership of The Rev. W. Harold Deacon, the fourteenth rector.
In 1954 a new side altar was installed. In 1958 the white interior of the church was painted a pale pink. The back wall of the chancel was painted a dark rose. Crosses and crowns in gold leaf were added as symbolic decorative motifs.
The parish celebrated its 125th anniversary in October 1967 when The Rev. Ernest D. Thompson was rector. During the turbulent times of the Vietnam War era, the parish was actively involved in voicing its political views and demonstrating its concern for peace and justice, both hallmarks of the congregation’s historical witness to the world.
During the 1970s and 1980s Saint Peter’s experienced a membership decline, like so many other city parishes at that time, as more and more families began relocating from the Central Square and Cambridgeport areas to the suburbs.
Over the years, Saint Peter’s has become known for its celebration of diversity. We welcome people from all walks of life, backgrounds, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Saint Peter’s has also celebrated women, who have played and continue to play important roles in the church’s life. Women were first elected to the vestry in 1919, and many have served since then. Deaconess Mabel Pennock was Director of the Church School in 1940s. In 1975 Sister Arlen of the Society of St. Margaret began her ministry working with the church school. Many women seminary students from the Episcopal Divinity School have served at Saint Peter’s, and The Rev. Elizabeth Wiesner served as Interim Rector from 1989 to 1991.
The Rev. Titus Presler and The Rev. Jane Presler were called as Co-Rectors in 1991. Titus and Jane worked with an outstanding parish committee to hold the successful 150th anniversary of the church in October 1992. Under Titus and Jane, the parish experienced renewed growth and vitality, better positioning Saint Peter’s for the future. Under their leadership, the parish developed a deeper understanding of the richness of the liturgy and a greater commitment to mission and outreach.
In October 2002 Saint Peter’s celebrated 160 years of ministry with The Rev. Gareth Evans as Interim Rector. The Rev. François Trottier served as Rector from 2004 until his return to his native Canada in 2010. The Rev. Kim Hardy served as Interim Rector following his departure.
After an extensive search process, The Rev. Dr. Christian Brocato was elected as the parish’s twentieth rector. Christian began his ministry on Sept. 1, 2011. His official installation took place on October 21, 2011, with now-deceased Bishop Thomas Shaw, Bishop of Massachusetts, presiding.
Since 2011, important changes have been happening in the church the collaborative efforts of outstanding parish leaders and volunteers. We have experienced liturgical renewal, and now the Sunday Eucharist is celebrated in the midst of the people at the Altar at the Crossing. The church’s properties have been renewed through repairs and refurbishment, and there is a renewed emphasis on spiritual formation, mission, and outreach. The church recently wrote a “Welcoming and Affirming” statement that firmly demonstrates the strength of our commitment to diversity. The parish is growing, and many exciting things are happening!
Between 2013 and 2015, the sanctuary of the church was restored to the original builders’ design of the 1860s, providing worshippers with a bright, clean, and less ornamented interior that enables better focus on worship. In particular, the magnificent centerpiece of the building, the Connick stained glass window of Christ the King, was removed and completely restored between 2014 and 2015.
By the grace of God, the parish has continued to be a source of faith, hope, strength, and guidance to its people, to the people of Cambridge and surrounding communities, and even abroad. We gratefully celebrated our 170th anniversary on October 28, 2012, and continue to look forward to more years of serving God and God’s people through our ministry together at Saint Peter’s.