The Church of St. Mary of the Harbor traces its origin to the turn of the 20th century when local Episcopalians began holding Sunday services in private homes. In 1904, the group became a Summer Congregation under the direction of the Bishop. In 1907, the first part-time rector arrived to conduct services in borrowed locations. In 1917, St. Mary’s gained Mission status. By 1919 funds were raised to purchase a three-story salt house and by 1922, a tea house on the adjacent property.
The arrival in 1933 of the Rev. Robert Wood Nicholson, the first full-time vicar, began a dramatic transformation. Rev. Nicholson organized the community - including many local artists - to convert the original building into a sanctuary and attach the former Sand Bar Club, floated from the west end, as the chancel. The Church was dedicated on August 26, 1936.
Subsequently, the tea house was made into a parish hall and a garden with fishpond completed the grounds. In 1939, the home next door was purchased to become the rectory. St. Mary’s impressive collection of sacred artwork and the facilities used today date to the tenure of Fr. Nicholson, for whom our Parish Hall is named.
Continued growth and stability led to St. Mary's becoming a Parish in 1946. Subsequent years saw a succession of rectors and both tranquility and turbulence. The congregation weathered storms of conflict, challenge, and controversy as well as actual storms that battered our buildings and flooded the sanctuary. Financial difficulties led to reversion to mission status in 1958.
The arrival of the Rev. George Welles as vicar in 1989 began another transformation. Fr. Welles challenged us to extend an expansive welcome. Attendance increased and finances improved. Investments in our facilities included handicap accessibility, new restrooms, a greatly expanded kitchen, rectory remodeling, and a new organ. We dedicated 10% of our income to outreach, a commitment that continues to this day. St. Mary’s regained parish status in 1993.
After a series of priests, St. Mary’s called the Rev. Terry Pannell as rector in 2006. Fr. Pannell stayed until retiring in 2022, the longest tenure in St. Mary’s history. While he was here, the sanctuary was reinforced to make it more resilient to sea level rise and climate change. We endured Covid, which drastically altered church operation but also prompted technological innovation, opening an opportunity to broaden outreach and stay in closer touch with our far-flung parishioners.
Through the ups and downs of St. Mary's history, we discern the presence of the Holy Spirit providing both challenge and succor. We have faith in continued guidance as we look toward the future and our journey with a new rector.
For more information about St. Mary’s and the application process please contact:
The Church of St. Mary of the Harbor
Attn: Search Committee
517 Commercial Street
Provincetown, MA 02657