FROM CHAPEL TO CATHEDRAL: A HISTORY OF ST. PETER'S
In November of 2019 we commemorate St. Peter's 50th anniversary as the Cathedral for the Diocese of Southwest Florida, the 120th anniversary of the original sanctuary, and its 130th anniversary as a worshiping community.
Welcome to this special place. This is a story about saints. It’s a story of faithful people who came together to create a church, devoted parishioners who made that little church grow, Episcopalians whose faithful support built the church whose anniversaries we celebrate now. Look around the Cathedral — at the stained glass, at the plaques, at the beautifully preserved and maintained building. Sit quietly in the sanctuary and you can hear the murmured prayers over the years, the voices raised in song, the chatter of conversation at meals and classes, in meetings and festive events. We who are here today — who consider St. Peter’s our spiritual home, who love this place and the faith and friendship we find here — are just the latest in a long line of faithful people. We pray that others will come after us and find the same things here that we value and preserve today. This is the story of people who loved St. Peter’s into being. Now it’s our turn to continue to love and serve our Lord in this special place.
"The story of St. Petersburg and the story of St. Peter's are deeply intertwined."
The exterior of the church and the neighboring rectory in 1907.
One Church Begets Another The story of St. Petersburg and the story of St.
In 1888, when fewer than 50 people lived in St.
Peter’s are deeply intertwined, as the growth of
Petersburg, Russian railroad entrepreneur Peter
one sparked the growth of the other.
Demens brought the Orange Belt Railway from
Entrepreneurs who came here to seek their
Tampa around the top of Tampa Bay to
fortunes on a sparsely populated tropical
Clearwater and to the southern part of the
frontier were also people of faith who moved
Pinellas peninsula, with the tracks ending at
quickly to build a church as one of their first acts
what is now First Avenue S and Dr. Martin
in developing a city along the bays and bayous.
Luther King Jr. (Ninth) Street. Parishioners of St. Bartholomew’s built a mission nearby — the
St. Peter’s owes its founding to English
Church of the Holy Spirit, at 11th Street between
immigrants who came to Pinellas County in the
Baum and Fifth avenues N.
late 19th century. As Anglicans, they wanted to establish Episcopal churches, and in 1887 a small
In 1889, that little mission was formally
group founded a mission church named St.
recognized as St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and
Bartholomew’s near Big Bayou, east of Fourth
it is that event that we commemorate as our
Street overlooking present-day Coquina Key.
Today at 11th and Baum you’ll find the Red
Four years later his son, Edwin, donated an
Mesa Mercado restaurant, the backs of Central
adjacent parcel and $5,000 to build the church
Avenue bars, and a vacant lot. Surely it is a
in memory of his mother, Augusta Tomlinson,
stroke of divine providence that as you travel
and in 1901 he donated $2,000 to build a
north on 11th Street toward Fifth Avenue, half a
rectory. He donated an early pipe organ and in
block east on Arlington Avenue N are the Bob
1911 gave our signature stained-glass window
Pitts Villas, housing for people with disabilities
showing Jesus walking on the water to rescue St.
named in honor of a member of St. Peter’s who
was their tireless advocate — close to the site of our founding mission.
The original mission chapel at 11th Street and Baum Avenue N was moved to the new site by
When the railroad tracks were extended to
mule wagon and was used as the place of
Second Street near the commercial fishing
worship until a new church building was
wharf, the city’s development moved in that
completed in 1899. It was used as a parish hall
direction, and parishioners began eyeing what is
and Sunday school building until 1940.
now downtown as a potential site for a new church.
The 1899 church building was significantly smaller than the sanctuary we worship in today.
In 1894 longtime vestryman Peter Tomlinson
It stretched from what is now the St. Peter
donated a parcel of land at Fourth Street and
window on the east to the cross aisle on the west,
Second Avenue N — then an open pasture — as
and from the present north wall to the side aisle
the site of the new church.
on the south. The building was expanded in 1926 to the dimensions you see today — adding essentially the western half of the sanctuary and the south transept, the area that in 1952 was transformed into St. Mary’s Chapel. During that whirlwind 1926 expansion, the altar was moved out from under the St. Peter window to a place closer to the pews.
June 18, 1899: No service, rained all day. This photo was taken about 1910. before the St. Peter window was installled. The triptych windows shown here are now at our mother church, St. Bartholomew's in St. Petersburg.
St. Peter's Over the Decades Excerpts from the Vestry Minutes The handwritten account books of the early years record the names and pledge payments of those first members — $1 per month, 50 cents per month. They record the services, with commentaries: “June 18, 1899: No service, rained all day.” They record the routine expenditures of parish life — for envelopes, lamp chimneys, hymnals and stamps. And they acknowledge donations: January 6,1907: “Donation by Mr. E. Tomlinson: $150” — the equivalent of more than $4,000 today. There are regular entries in the vestry minutes about the need “to call upon members for arrears in subscriptions,” i.e., to pay their pledges, in order to pay the rector $25 a month for nine months.
Highlights from the 1920s In 1919 the vestry spent eight months debating the purchase (for $15) of a 40-foot extension ladder to aid in changing lightbulbs. Dealing with immense crowds, in February 1921 the committee decided to reserve seats for members for the Easter service with cards "in order that they may be taken care of first" and that "the doors be locked until 10:00 o'clock and no one should be admitted without cards until after 10:30."
Highlights from the 1960s From 1962-64: Memorial windows were designed and installed, including the window in the inner narthex incorrectly dedicated to Edward (rather than Edwin) H. Tomlinson. April 1965: Austin Organ Co. reports that new organ console is in full production and will be "the finest organ in Florida." August 1968: Vestry votes to install a third telephone line.
Highlights from the 1940s In June 1942 the vestry approved creation of a "writing and recreation room" for soldiers. In October it was reported that more than 500 letters were written there each week. Much of 1947 was spent authorizing fans to cool the church, abandoning the fans, and voting on different methods of installation. On July 1, 1947: "Reconsidered and approved installation of fans according to the Harvard Plan."
Highlights from the 1970s July 1973: Authorized letter stating "our adverse feelings on the trial liturgy" and to "the ordination of women." October 1973: 'Green Book' trial liturgy given three-year extension. Ordination of women as priests tabled for three years. September 1976: General Convention of the Episcopal Church allows for ordination of women to the priesthood.
Highlights from the 1980s 1981: First female lectors read at worship services. January 1982: Charter amended to change name from St. Peter's Protestant Episcopal Church to The Cathedral Church of St. Peter. January 1985: Approved purchase of computer for the office and of new (1982) hymnals. October 1985: Dean will introduce new Rite II liturgy at 9 am service when Baptism liturgy is used.Â
Highlights from the 1990s June 1999: Cathedral begins Our Daily Bread, outreach ministry to homeless and needy, and monthly Living in God's Hands Today (LIGHT) dinners for those infected or affected by AIDS. August 1999: Mission team makes its first trip to the Dominican Republic.
1987: First female acolytes serve at the altar.
Highlights from the 2000s June 2001: Cathedral develops new plan to tear down Baptist Sanctuary and Cathedral Center for Ministry as well as our office building and parish hall to create new buildings and parking. Estimated price: $7 million. June 2002: Telephone system is updated so callers can leave a voice mail when the office is closed. January 2006: Crosstown newsletter becomes a monthly publication. July 2007: Construction becomes a reality after many setbacks and restarts. December 2008: Stephen B. Morris is called as the Cathedral's sixth dean.
Highlights from the 2010s September 2010: Cathedral begins a monthly series of book discussion that will grow into the Book Talk series. December 2010: Bishop Smith blesses the new building on Christmas Eve. Children present a Christmas pageant. June 2012: Friends of St. Aelred hold first Spiritual Pride dinner to emphasize importance of a supportive faith community to LGBTQ Episcopalians. January 2019: Organ console - the keyboard, the stops, the couplers, and the computers is removed and replaced. Sacristy is remodeled.
May 2019: Cathedral forms ministry partnership with St. Bede's Episcopal Church.
For a complete listing of all the highlights, visit spcathedral.org/history
Why is our church called St. Peter's? No one really knows, but the records suggest three reasons: It's the obvious choice for a church set in ... St. Petersburg. Early benefactor Edwin Tomlinson wanted to honor his father and fellow benefactor, Peter Tomlinson. In its earliest days St. Petersburg was a commercial fishing center, and St. Peter himself was a fisherman (Matthew 4:18).
From this postcard from 1912 to a rainbow over the modern day St. Petersburg skyline, the Cathedral has remained a landmark in downtown St. Pete.
Hard Times and Good Times During the boom era of the 1920s, winter
More ushers were needed to alleviate the
visitors packed the pews and the offering plates
“immense crowds” during worship services, and
were full. Guests at the grand hotels danced to
100 new prayer books were ordered. In that
Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” But the Great
happy stretch before the start of World War II,
Depression ended the reckless real-estate
Americans sang along with Bing Crosby on
speculation that had powered the city’s growth.
“Pennies from Heaven."
St. Peter’s had to borrow money to cover its expenses. The church’s beloved and longest-
In 1940 a two-story office and classroom
serving rector, Chaplain Evan Edwards,
building was constructed, thanks to a generous
voluntarily reduced his salary. The church kept
gift from parishioner Alice Horstmann. In 1958
the Sunday offering in a lockbox rather than
it would be expanded to three stories, and in
deposit it in a bank out of concern that the banks
1971 the upper floors would house the
might be closed. That fear was well-founded:
Canterbury School before the campus moved to
Every bank in St. Petersburg closed from mid1931 until 1932. By 1936, owing to the diligent stewardship of
Snell Isle. (That building was demolished in 2007, along with the original 1940 parish hall, to build the parish hall and offices we occupy today.)
Chaplain Edwards, St. Peter’s emerged from the Depression, and the fortunes of both the city
In the 1940s and ‘50s, St. Peter’s offered a service
and the church improved.
of Morning Prayer with Holy Communion the first Sunday of the month at 11:15 a.m. The priests all knew to keep their sermons short and to move that service along quickly. If they failed to do so, at a certain time half the congregation would get up and leave in order to be first in line at noon for Sunday dinner at the popular downtown cafeterias — the Orange Blossom, the Driftwood, the Tramor — where they’d have to compete for seats with crowds of parishioners from other downtown churches.
The sanctuary in the 1930s. The choir stalls faced each other on the north and south sides of the chancel. The elaborate rood screen later was moved to St. Mary's Chapel and finally to the back of the church.
Meet Our Benefactor, Edwin Tomlinson St. Peter’s owes its existence in large part to the father and son, Peter and Edwin Tomlinson. Peter was one of the early founders of St. Peter’s and he gave the first lot at Fourth Street and Second Avenue N for the construction of the church. Edwin gave an adjacent parcel and the money to build both the church and a rectory. Both Tomlinsons continued to be generous supporters of the early St. Peter’s.
Edwin H. Tomlinson led an adventurous life, running a sugar plantation in the Dominican Republic and operating the first tourist hotel in the South in Aiken, SC. He made his fortune in the mining and oil business between 1874 and 1897. Historical documents describe him as the city’s “patron saint” who “spent a fortune” to “aid children and suffering humanity. He was truly a friend of everyone,” one history reports. “No worthwhile public institution in the city went without his financial aid.”
Edwin Tomlinson helped to build St. Petersburg’s first hospital, Augusta Hospital (named in honor of his mother), now known as Bayfront Health. He built the first open-air post office. He was the founder of the Festival of States, a lavish springtime promotional event that attracted marching bands and thousands of tourists to Florida. He brought the first car to St. Petersburg (it traveled all of 6 miles per hour).
In 1901 he built the Domestic Science and Manual Training School, the oldest surviving school building in St. Petersburg, to train youth in military science, manual arts, and homemaking. Today it’s the city-owned Greenhouse next to the Cathedral, a small-business incubator. The Tomlinson adult-education center on Mirror Lake is named for him. He is memorialized today in a stained-glass window on the south side of the inner Narthex. It’s the window with a small boat at the top, Jesus at the center, and the disciples looking in all directions as they take the Gospel into the world. The window incorrectly identifies our benefactor as “Edward” rather than “Edwin.”
The Cathedral During World War II During World War II, the rationing of gasoline and rubber ended the tourist traffic on which St. Petersburgâ€™s economy depended. The boom-era resort hotels, including the Vinoy and the Princess Martha, housed troops rather than vacationers.Â In June 1942 the vestry minutes record the creation of a "writing and recreation room" for soldiers. In October it was reported that more than 500 letters were written there each week. The room closed near the war's end, in November 1945.
This prayer was printed in the front cover of the worship bulletin during the 1940s.
In 1971 an Italian marble plaque listing the names of parishioners who served in World War II was installed in the garden entrance off St. Mary's Chapel that is now used as a Quiet Room for children.
Growing, Planting, Becoming a Cathedral Having been founded as a mission, St. Peter’s
It was the beginning of the Baby Boom (and of
took seriously its role in founding other
rock ’n roll). Between 1952 and 1959, St. Peter’s
churches. In 1949, records show that loans and
was responsible for the founding of eight
donations from St. Peter’s and others totaled
Episcopal churches in south Pinellas County:
more than $12,000 for the construction of St.
St. Alban’s, St. Pete Beach; St. Thomas’, St.
Augustine’s at Sixth Avenue S and Prescott
Vincent’s, St. Bede’s, St. Matthew’s, and Holy
Street. (This was during the Jim Crow era, when
Cross in St. Petersburg; St. Dunstan’s, Largo; St.
St. Petersburg was strictly segregated, and
Giles’, Pinellas Park. Key parishioners were
documents refer to “St. Augustine’s mission to
asked to become the founding families of those
churches. Once the new churches were up and running, many of those founders felt a call to
Then, at the end of World War II, the city’s
return to St. Peter’s.
population soared, and worship services and Sunday school were packed.
In 1964 the Cathedral led the founding of Suncoast Manor (now Westminster Suncoast), a retirement community on Pinellas Point.
A color postcard from around 1959. Check out the tail fins on those cars parked in the street!
Explosive growth throughout the State of
Dean Lawson commissioned the cross and
Florida led to the next momentous step in St.
corpus that stand on the corner of Fourth
Peter’s history. In 1969, the huge Diocese of
Street as well as the statue of St. Peter in the
South Florida — which stretched roughly from
memorial garden because “I couldn’t find
today’s I-4 corridor south to the Keys — was
another statue of him in the city named after
divided into three dioceses: Southeast Florida,
him." But he strenuously resisted the “new”
Central Florida, and Southwest Florida. On
Book of Common Prayer issued in 1979 to
November 18, 1969, St. Peter’s was officially
replace the familiar 1928 prayer book. That
named the Cathedral for the new diocese. The
transition was left for his successor, the Rev.
Cathedral is the official bishop’s seat and is the
Robert N. Giannini.
venue for major diocesan services and activities. The much-beloved “gentle giant” rector, LeRoy D. Lawson (6 feet 7 inches tall), became the first dean of the new Cathedral. He recalled that when he first joined the church staff as a curate right after World War II, he made all his pastoral calls by bicycle and streetcar. He could mix and mingle with the large “tourist congregation” that swelled the attendance every winter by strolling among the legendary green benches along Central Avenue.
The statue of St. Peter can be found in the Memorial Garden today
The Rev. LeRoy D. Lawson became the first Dean of the Cathedral in 1969 after being called as rector in 1965. Vestry minutes from Dec. 1965 note
Lawson being instituted as the first Dean with Bishop Hargrave.
that the altar had to be raised and new vestments purchased owing to the new rector's height..
SINGING GOD'S PRAISES: MUSIC GAVE ST. PETER'S ITS IDENTITY Music has always been a signature ministry at St. Peter's, starting around 1915, when the first Austin organ was installed under the leadership of the Rev. E.E. Madeira. That organ served St. Peter's until 1965.
Church music at St. Peter’s “was probably
Setzer programmed major classical Masses
similar to what was done everywhere else,”
and modern works such as the Kodaly Missa
retired organist and choirmaster Roberta
Brevis and works by Ned Rorem and
Poellein says, until the arrival of Robert D.
Benjamin Britten. He conducted carol services
Setzer, who served as organist and
before midnight Mass on Christmas Eve that
choirmaster from 1951 to 1986. He brought
were broadcast over a local radio station. In
“a new level of musicianship to the whole
1978 a handbell choir was started, with bells
Tampa Bay area,” Roberta recalled — both in
ordered from the Whitechapel Foundry in
the demands he made upon his choirs and in
England — “the finest in Christendom,” Setzer
the choices of music, both for regular Sunday
worship and for special masses, recitals and performances.
On Christmas Eve Setzer always conducted a major work. “We’d have a full Mass with a little
“The music program here became the beacon, the epitome of what church music ought to be,” Roberta said.
orchestra as part of the service, and it put Christmas on a whole other level,” Roberta said. Back in the days of those late-night Christmas Eve services, “I can remember playing the Widor Toccata at 10 minutes to 1.”
The Cathedral Choir in October 2019.
In 1982 the choir traveled to England to perform at Westminster Abbey, Coventry Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral, St. Mary’s, Northampton, and St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that many remember fondly to this day.
The priority of the Episcopal church is to participate in the regular weekly services of music.
In 1984 the celebrated English composer, organist and conductor David Willcocks accepted Setzer’s invitation to conduct a weeklong workshop and a service of Choral Evensong. He returned the following spring to conduct the St. Matthew Passion on Good Friday and to conduct the Cathedral Choir at the 11 a.m. service on Easter morning. It was Setzer’s belief that the first priority of an Episcopal Church choir was “to participate in the regular weekly services of music,” which in St. Peter’s case totaled some 200 worship services annually.
Palm Sunday 1928. Love those black choir caps! Second from left is Bishop John Wing of the Diocese of South Florida, of which we were a part at the time.
Roberta became organist and choirmaster in
Being the organist had its challenges. In the days
1986. Barry Howe, who became the dean the
before air-conditioning, mosquitoes lived in the
following year, “told me that part of the function
console of the 1915 organ, “and there would be
of the Cathedral is the preservation of the arts,
swarms of them around your legs,” Roberta
and the way you preserve music is to perform it
remembered. During thunderstorms she could
— and we did.” She continued and expanded the
feel the bell tower sway, and “white termite
tradition of fine service music, evensongs,
wings would come drifting down.”
orchestral settings for Christmas Eve, and major choral works. For the 1989 Cathedral centennial
In 1989 she led a choir tour to England, singing
our choirs sang Handel’s Messiah in its entirety.
Evensong in the cathedrals in Ely, Norwich, Carlisle, and Gloucester, a noon concert in York
During those years, Mary K Wilson conducted
and Durham, and an evening concert in
the St. Peter’s Choristers (youth choir), the St.
Glasgow. “At that time women were newly being
Cecilia Choir, and the handbell choir, and
accepted and allowed within the chancel,” she
nurtured a generation of young people with a
recalled, “so to have a female choral director was
love for music and the discipline and
a little problematic for some.”
commitment to sing in the church.
One Christmas Day, the Rev. Mimi Brown, the deacon, fainted at the altar, and it was Roberta’s challenge to call 911 from the phone on the organ console, ask that an ambulance be sent, and whisper to the operator that no, she could not stay on the line, and no, the operator could not call her back, because she was about to play the Agnus dei (“O Lamb of God”) for the service of Holy Communion. “Just send help!”
Roberta Poellein, organist and choirmaster from 1951-1986
Robert D. Setzer served as organist and choirmaster from 1951 to 1986, bringing an increased level of musicianship to the Tampa Bay area.
In 1965 a new organ was built at Setzer’s
The pipes range in size from 16 feet long,
direction and installed by the Austin Organ Co.,
located horizontally under the St. Peter window,
consisting of three manuals and 61 ranks of
to pipes smaller than a pencil. In 2019, a new
pipes in six divisions. In 1997 a new four-manual
organ console and operating system were
console and digital ranks were added by the
installed, including digital augmentation that
Rodgers Organ Co.
expands the organ’s capacity.
In 2016 Patrick J. Murphy & Associates added a new antiphonal division, retaining one rank from the original 1915 Austin organ, complete revoicing of the Great and Pedal divisions, moving the original trompette en chamade on the Cathedral arch to the antiphonal, and increasing the number of ranks to 64. That was also the year that the chancel was repainted in red and the organ pipes refinished in silver and gold. The new organ before it was installed in 2019.
Our current music director and organist, Dwight M. Thomas, joined the Cathedral in March 2009. “This is a sophisticated musical congregation,” he said of St. Peter’s. “They’ll try just about anything without complaint, and they’ll sing whether they like that particular hymn or not. It’s a wonderful singing congregation.” Strong singers from the community who want to sing challenging music have long been attracted to our choirs for both weekly worship and special presentations Dwight M. Thomas, music director and organist, 2009-present
Both the congregation and our Friends of Music donors have been generous supporters of various musical offerings over the years — Wonderful Wednesdays lunchtime concerts in Lent, Cathedral Thursday short evening recitals, Choral Evensong, our rejuvenated children’s choir, our new service of Compline, our concert series featuring guest performers.
This is a sophisticated musical congregation. It's a wonderful singing congregation.
“The church is in a time of transition — not just the church’s role and mission, but in its expressions and how we worship and view our worship,” Dwight said. “I’m big fan of newly composed works. I look at it through the prism that new things are being written all the time — some good, some not so good — and that part of the fun is discovering what resonates with this congregation in particular.”
Cathedral Anecdotes and Stories Check, Please! In the 1950s it was the occasional habit of some Cathedral youth to leave the church during Sunday School time to go to “St. Howard’s” — the Howard Johnson’s restaurant a few blocks south on Fourth Street. One Sunday, the rector, the Rev. James L. Duncan, followed them and simply stood at the door until he caught their attention. Shamefacedly, they all got up, paid their tabs, and followed Father Duncan back to the church, where they were informed that “Our services are at St. Peter’s, not St. Howard’s."
For Whom the Bell Tolled In October 1980 the Cathedral was holding a funeral at the same hour Ronald Reagan was campaigning in Williams Park across the street. Our tradition was to toll the tower bell once (bong … pause) for each year of the deceased’s life. The sexton had reached 34 (bong … pause) when there was a knock on the sacristy door. Two Secret Service men, clearly highly anxious, stood there. "Can you please turn the bell tower off? It is interfering with Mr. Reagan’s speech and our audio frequency is being disturbed.” The sexton declined to do so, explaining the practice of sounding the tower bell once for each year of the deceased’s life, and kept tolling the bell: 41 … 42 … 56 .. 57 … 58 (bong … pause). The Secret Service men asked: “And just how old was the deceased?” Sexton: “Ninety-four.” One of them said, “Good grief.” The other one mumbled something a little stronger. Their desires unsatisfied, they returned to Williams Park. And the bell continued to toll. Contributed by Eric Lang Peterson Cathedral Bell Tower in the 1970s
A Sunday in the 1940s, when the pews were full and women wore wonderful hats.
Over the decades from the 1950s to the present,
In the big remodeling of 1969, the pink marble
St. Peter’s has undergone several interior
altar we use today was installed in that location
remodelings. In 1952 the ornately carved
with the celebrant facing the congregation. The
wooden rood screen that since 1936 had
former wooden high altar was moved to St.
separated the chancel from the rest of the
Mary’s Chapel, replacing a white marble altar,
sanctuary was moved to St. Mary’s Chapel,
given by the Pheil family, that moved to the
where it remained until another major
Children’s Chapel and later was given to St.
remodeling in 1969, when it was used to create
the inner Narthex at the back of the church. That year the original dark cypress pews were
In 1957 the choir stalls, which once faced each
replaced with the oak pews we use today. Some
other on the north and south sides of the
of the cypress was used to panel lower sections
chancel, were moved to face the congregation.
of the walls; other pews were given to other
The walls, once forest green, were painted white,
Episcopal churches, notably St. Anne of Grace
as we see them today. Sheetrock on the ceiling
in Largo. And in another major remodeling in
and semigloss paint richly enhanced the
1989, the choir loft as we know it today was
acoustics of the nave.
created, and air-conditioning ducts that matched the organ pipes were installed to
“What a difference,” recalls former organist and
provide welcome relief for the choir.
choirmaster Roberta Poellein, then a student of organist and choirmaster Robert D. Setzer. “You
In the late 1950s it was discovered that the
could take your hands off the keyboard and still
weight of the roof trusses and the Sheetrock
hear the sound rolling to the back of the
ceiling panels was causing the walls to bow
outward. A system of cables and turnbuckles was put in place to hold walls and roof together.
Air-conditioning came to the sanctuary in 1957,
Between 1962 and 1966 the original amber-and-
and none too soon. Until then, parishioners
pearl windows at eye level — which once were
waved funeral fans to stay cool — this, at a time
operable to admit cooling breezes — were
when hats and gloves were the expected attire
replaced with the fixed stained-glass windows
for women and suits and ties for men, whatever
you see today depicting scenes from the life of
the weather. Dean Lawson recalled that the first
Christ. The clerestory windows showing the
time he preached at St. Peter’s (as a guest
Stations of the Cross and the seven sacraments
preacher in the 1940s), “I looked to see several
and the two large windows on the south side of
hundred people or more, and fans going in
St. Mary’s Chapel were installed at the same
every direction. I didn’t know whether the fans
were really for cooling or to protect themselves from what I was going to say.” A huge fan on the south wall of St. Mary’s Chapel that provided air circulation had to be turned off during sermons and anthems. “Sometimes we kids wished it had been left on during the sermon,” observes lifelong member Eric Lang Peterson. Organist Setzer commented, “I used to plead with the ushers not to turn on the fan, especially during the Offertory.” Acolytes would vie for who got to turn the fan on and off.
It was the custom in those days to fast before taking Communion, and on hot summer Sundays, “invariably you’d hear a plop — plop — plop as young people in the choir fainted,” Virginia Rowell recalls. The rector at the time, the Rev. James L. Duncan, finally wrote to choir parents imploring them to feed their children before church. When Virginia’s father, Delmar Webb, the longtime chief usher, died, the family found in the pockets of every one of his jackets the ammonia ampules he used to revive the
Stained glass windows in the present day nave
depicting the scenes of the life of Christ.
Our Story in Color This window was given in honor of Dorothy Ruth McClatchie, a parishioner who was attacked by a shark while swimming in Tampa Bay in 1922 and bled to death.
The "Benedicite" window in St. Mary's Chapel includes birds, a cow, a giraffe, a whale, and a squirrel. The story goes that Dean LeRoy Lawson was sitting in the Memorial Garden discussing the window with a representative of the window manufacturer when a squirrel ran up and sat on his foot. When the completed window was delivered, the squirrel was incorporated in the lower right corner.
Abundance Within and Without The 1960s through the ‘80s were busy, happy
In 1975 the Cathedral Bookstore opened in “a 10-
years at the Cathedral. Parishioners have fond
by-10 space in a corner of the Parish Hall,” Carol
memories of the Children’s Chapel, with its
Ellis recalled in a 1986 history. In 1979 it moved
miniature altar and pews. Youth recall camping
to the building on the northeast corner of
trips led by John Ellis and Jim Budd at the
Fourth Street and Second Avenue N, which St.
Ellises’ cabin in Inverness.
Peter’s then owned; and finally to the undercroft of the former Baptist Church office building until that building was torn down in 2007 to make way for our current building. Longtime manager Cindy Campbell was preceded in that role by Virginia Brew and Penny Burns, among others. It was a time of friendship, community and hospitality. There were meals cooked from scratch — many will recall the legendary
The Rev. Jim Kelly leading Children's Chapel, 1994.
mashed potatoes (hand-peeled potatoes, milk, butter, sour cream) and roast turkeys, served
In the 1970s there were five services each
at parish-wide holiday dinners. There were
Sunday — at 7:30, 8, 9, and 11 am.and 12:30 pm;
pancake suppers, covered-dish get-togethers
Morning Prayer and Holy Communion six days
in parishioners’ homes, book reviews, card
a week; and penance from 5 to 6 pm every
parties, teas and fashion shows, prayer groups
Friday. The Saturday service began with
and activities for young couples and families
Confession at 4 pm; Recitation of the Rosary at
that raised up a generation of Cathedral
4:20 pm; then Evening Prayer, followed by Holy
Eucharist and Healing beginning at 5 pm. In 1974 our youth began the dramatic Way of the Cross walk through downtown St. Petersburg on the morning of Good Friday, a tradition that continues unbroken to this day.
2019 marked the 45th year of Way of the Cross. It is an honored tradition that attracts children, youth, and adults from the Cathedral and diocese.
The old parish hall and office/classroom building, The short bell tower, shown here, was
expanded in 1926 to accommodate chimes and bells, a gift of the Pheil family.
There were big financial challenges in the mid-1970s. Eric Peterson recalls that Father Lawson once lamented, “We could manage our bills if people would just tithe their Yacht Club bill.” Still, it was in the 1980s that St. Peter’s created two of its strongest outreach ministries: Father Lawson’s long-held dream, Peterborough Apartments, for low-income seniors, in 1981; and during Barry Howe’s tenure as dean, Resurrection House, a faith-based residence for homeless women and their children, in 1987.
Resurrection House and the Peterborough Apartments are still serving the needs of the community in 2019.
Cathedral Anecdotes and Stories
The First Female Acolytes The first female acolytes started serving at the
Bob recruited female acolytes. “Being an
altar in the fall of 1987.
acolyte is the highest level of non-ordained
Dean LeRoy Lawson had been adamant that only boys and young men could serve as acolytes, a practice that continued when Robert Giannini succeeded him as dean.
servant ministry,” Bob said. “It was an easy decision for me to follow his wishes.” But Cindy Barksdale declined his invitation, and to the best of Bob’s knowledge never served in this diocese as an acolyte.“Barry and I
When Barry Howe became the dean, among his
have laughed many times over the issue and
staff was the Rev. Dudley Barksdale, canon
sequence of events,” Bob says.
chancellor. His daughter, Cindy, wanted to be an acolyte, and Dean Howe told Bob Campbell, then the acolyte warden, that he wanted girls and women to be able to serve.
A Woman Of Prayer For many years Betty Wright was a leader of the St. Mary’s Prayer Group, a devoted group of women who took seriously the ministry of prayer. Each day, at home, the members set aside special time to offer prayers. On Mondays, they prayed for the diocese, the bishop and church unity. Tuesdays, for the Cathedral, the dean and the clergy. Wednesdays, for healing. Thursdays, thanksgiving for the gift of the Holy Comforter. Fridays, for the faithful departed. Saturdays, for all baptized members. Sundays, thanksgiving for our Lord’s resurrection.
St. Mary’s is a way of life. When I remember all those who have belonged and are no longer here. I feel prayer draws us closer to God, to being in the Presence of Our Lord.
Usually members offered their prayers “first thing in the morning, but the main thing is to stop and listen to the Lord,” Betty said in a 1999 newsletter story.“St. Mary’s is a way of life,” Betty said, “when I remember all those who have belonged and are no longer here. I feel prayer draws us closer to God, to being in the Presence of Our Lord.” Long active in the choir and many other ministries, Betty was a voice of wisdom and unshakable faith. She died in 2012 at the age of 102.
A Difficult Decade, Then a Turnaround St. Peter’s was always strong in liturgy, music,
For years there were plans to turn the former
education and youth ministry, but demographic
Baptist Sanctuary into a performing arts space,
changes were at work here as in all mainstream
but various challenges — chiefly money and
denominations. The number of baptized
parking — derailed those plans. Other
members at St. Peter’s dropped from around
proposals would have built condominiums or a
1,400 in 1950 to 1,234 in 1992 to 901 in 2002. In
columbarium and memorial garden on the
2018 we counted 1,002 baptized members. As
former Baptist site.
the 20th century drew to a close, giving was falling or flat, and there were years of deficit
All the while it was becoming clear that our
budgets. During a decade of rapid turnover of
existing physical plant was beyond remodeling,
clergy and staff and financial instability, it was
and its layout and lack of accessibility, parking
faith in Jesus and love for this Cathedral that
and security inhibited our ministries. A 2004
kept us going.
plan for an office building, parish hall and parking garage had to be set aside for lack of
In 1990 the opportunity arose to purchase two
buildings to our south: the Neoclassical Revival sanctuary formerly owned by First Baptist Church and its office/Sunday school building. The office building became the Cathedral Center for Ministry, housing the Cathedral bookstore, the music suite, Cathedral offices and meeting rooms, and space rented to nonprofit organizations.
The old Baptist sanctuary on the left. Our new building, completed in 2009, on the right.
Finally, in 2007, the former Baptist office building and the Cathedral’s existing office space, three-story classroom building and parish hall were demolished to make way for the new glassbox Narthex, office and meeting space, and parish hall we occupy today. Those who lived through that construction recall the port-a-potty trailer on Second Avenue N; the many Sundays when coffee hour was held out on the sidewalk; and the temporary main access to the Cathedral via a wooden ramp to the Second Avenue door that opens into the inner Narthex.
Now: Solid Footing, New Connections St. Peter’s spent 10 years struggling out from under crushing debt created by the construction of that new building. Under the determined and visionary leadership of its sixth dean, the Very Rev. Stephen B. Morris, and thanks to the sale of the former Baptist property and the top two floors of our building, the sacrificial giving of our congregation, and a financial windfall, today we are debt-free. We have created an endowment to guarantee our future and to begin new life and new ministry and to find our new place in the community around us. We rejoice that we can operate from a basis of abundance rather than scarcity and that we can invest in our future and that of our diocese.
Today we are a church that has turned outward to support our community: through our partnership with Campbell Park Elementary School and through our continuing relationships with Peterborough Apartments and Resurrection House. We are proud to have raised up from our clergy three bishops to serve the wider church: James L. Duncan, rector 1950-1961, bishop suffragan of South Florida, 1961-1969, and first bishop of Southeast Florida, 1969-1980; Calvin O. Schofield, curate 1962-1964, bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Southeast Florida, 1979-1980, and bishop of Southeast Florida, 1980-2000; and Barry R. Howe, dean 1987-1998, bishop of West Missouri, 1999-2011.
The Cathedral is proud to partner with Campbell Park Elementary.
We have recently begun an innovative partnership with St. Bede’s, one of the parishes St. Peter’s founded in the 1960s, to share resources and staff. Parishioners play key roles in diocesan activities and in the wider Episcopal Church. Our nursery and Children’s Chapel are full. Our arts and music programs and education offerings attract strong attendance from both
Today we are a church that has turned outward to support our community.
inside and outside the congregation. All this comes — as it did at St. Peter’s beginning — as the city around us enjoys a rebirth: downtown residential construction, dining and entertainment venues, sports, the arts. As our founders recorded in the minutes of the first vestry meeting: “Church work in St. Petersburg is coeval with the existence of the place itself.”
A community work day St. Bede's spent landscaping and cleaning up the grounds of the church.
Thanksgiving As We Celebrate Now, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary
We give thanks for those who have given their
as a Cathedral, we give thanks for the
time, talent, and treasure over the decades, in
legacies left to us by those who came
good times and bad, so that St. Peter’s would be
before: our beautiful sanctuary … the
here to provide a solid grounding in faith for
stained glass … the priceless needlepoint
our children and grandchildren.
created by our members over the years … the silver chalices, the crosses and
We give thanks for this place that for 130 years
candlesticks that enhance our worship …
has offered strength and solace, joy and
the art … our fine organ.
comfort through devoted clergy, faithful worship and inspiring music.
As we prayed in 1989 on our 100th anniversary: We thank you for this community of faith, our parish home. For those who had the initial vision to draw together to worship you here; for those who have offered the gifts given to them in positions of leadership throughout the years; and for all who have been the faithful members of St. Peter’s — we praise your name. Their goodly heritage nurtures us and challenges us to serve you with ready and willing hearts. Amen.
OUR FUTURE: GO DEEPER, BE THE BEST WE CAN BE “It took a banker to remind me of what we needed to be as a church,” the Very Rev. Stephen B. Morris, the Cathedral’s sixth dean, said as he presided over St. Peter’s anniversary celebrations. During the most difficult times as we struggled for financial stability, Dean Morris recalled, he was meeting with a banker, expecting that they would be talking solely about money and debt and interest rates and the possibilities of a columbarium or the sale of property or other revenue sources. But the banker advised him this: “Look at your church. What is it intended to be here for? Focus on that.” “It’s so simple, but a banker had to tell me,” the dean said. “And the answer is, good solid worship, formation, pastoral care, outreach, music and the arts.”
What's inside this issue:
When he arrived as dean in December 2008, Dean Morris quickly set three priorities. First, he clearly Growing Your established a worship identity. Three Sunday morning services, none with critical mass of participants, Spirituality- 3 were reduced to two, and the liturgical efforts to be all things to all people were brought back in line: “Use the Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal and do good middle-of-the-road worship and stick with that.” A second major step was fully appreciating the magnitude of the debt with which we were burdened — $5.2-million. That required hard and sometimes unpopular decisions, backroom turmoil, disappointments and setbacks. The steps that took us from financial insecurity to our solid position today— debt-free, with an endowment and generous income from pledges and contributions — fell into place through hard work, prayer, friends and connections, networking,sacrificial giving, and sheer good luck. A third step was assembling a team of the right people in the right place at the right time. “Now all we have to think about is church — being the best we can be, being a good safe place, and feeding people,” the dean said. The Very Rev. Stephen B. Morris Sixth Dean of the Cathedral 2009-present
Against this background, the Cathedral took a major step in the mid-2000s to provide a generous pastoral response to LGBTQ Episcopalians. After a series of honest and respectful conversations to examine the idea of same-sex blessings and to hear from all sides, the Cathedral performed its first such service. “It was important to this community” to do that, the dean said. Now that marriage equality is the law of the land, we use the rites approved by the Episcopal Church to marry all who seek the blessing of Holy Matrimony. As we celebrate our anniversaries and rejoice in all that has been and all that is, “our goal now is to go deeper, to examine how to be a Christian in this complicated and confusing culture that we share with the world,” the dean said. “We go deeper not to become more exclusive, but to see how much we truly have in common with the people around us,” Dean Morris said. “It’s not about telling people how to behave, but telling them what we believe — what it means to live as a community of faithful people bound together by the love ofGod as found in the life of Jesus.”
What's inside this issue:
RECTORS AND DEANS OF THE CATHEDRAL 1893-2019
1893-1899 | G.W. Southwell
1970-1981 | LeRoy D. Lawson
1899-1901 | T.J. Perdue
1981-1986 | Robert N Giannini
1902-1911 | Charles McIlvaine Gray
1987-1998 | Barry R. Howe
1911-1917 | E.E. Madeira
1998-2002 | Randall K. Hehr
1918-1927 | Wiltshire Winfield Williams
2004-2008 | Russell L. Johnson
1927-1950 | Evan Alexander Edwards
2009-present | Stephen B. Morris
1950-1961 | James L. Duncan 1961-1965 | Charles F. Langlands 1966-1970 | LeRoy D. Lawson
Our Centennial Banner, created in 1989, features the symbols of St. Peter: the upside-down cross and the keys to the Kingdom. The banner was given by Dr. Richard Phares in memory of Lorraine O’Neal Phares and was worked by Robert Fowler, prolific needleworker and the second chair of the Needlepoint Guild.
NOVEMBER 2019: This history was written to commemorate St. Peter’s 50th anniversary as the Cathedral for the Diocese of Southwest Florida, the 120th anniversary of the completion of the original sanctuary, and its 130th anniversary as a worshiping community. “I’ve probably left out as much history as I’ve included here,” writer Judy Stark says. “There are so many wonderful details and anecdotes in the records and in the conversations that many of you have shared with me. I begin to have new respect for the Gospel writers about what to include, what to leave out, exactly when and how something happened. I will be grateful if those of you who have been here through the last 50 years will correct errors of fact. I’m unable to mention every person who has played a role here in the decades gone by, but I know they live in our hearts and our memories.”
Material from the 1989 Centennial History of St. Peter’s by Will Michaels; from St. Petersburg and the Florida Dream by Ray Arsenault; from original parish minutes and records, clippings from the St. Petersburg Times, and from staff and parishioners’ recollections was used in this report. Written by Judy Stark. Designed by Hillary Peete.
In November of 2019 we commemorate St. Peter's 50th anniversary as the Cathedral for the Diocese of Southwest Florida, the 120th anniversary...
Published on Nov 13, 2019
In November of 2019 we commemorate St. Peter's 50th anniversary as the Cathedral for the Diocese of Southwest Florida, the 120th anniversary...