The Chapel of St. James the Fisherman has stood in the pine grove above the highway in Wellfleet since 1956. The Christian fellowship that constitutes the true identity of the Chapel formed in 1950. Leadership was provided in the early years by James A. Pike, then Chaplain at Columbia University and later famous as an electrifying preacher and controversial Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine and Bishop of California. Among James Pike’s associates here were John B. Coburn and Morgan Porteus. In 1950, John Coburn was Chaplain at Amherst College and Rector of Grace Church Amherst. He later was the Dean of the Episcopal Theological School, Rector of St. James’ Church in New York, and Bishop of Massachusetts. In 1950, Morgan Porteus was Rector of St. Peter’s Church Cheshire, Connecticut, and later Bishop of Connecticut.
In more recent years, leadership has been provided by Milton McC. “Mac” Gatch, Professor of Church History Emeritus at Union Theological Seminary (associated with the Chapel since 1974); John F. Smith, retired Chaplain of Groton School (with the Chapel since 2000); and Joseph M. Zorawick, reitred Rector of Christ and Saint Stephen’s Church, New York (with the Chapel since 2004).
Memorial to Betsy Harriman Arms
The congregation that met from 1950 to 1956 at the Wellfleet Congregational Church came alive as it developed a mode of worship that centered on the participation of the congregation. When it was decided to build a Chapel, members of the congregation worked closely with the architect, Olav Hammarstrom, to design a building that would express their commitment to the participation of all the People of God in the liturgy.
The building they conceived is a structure in which the worshippers surround the Holy Table, for the life of the Christian community is centered on the Eucharist. Light floods upon the table from concealed skylights, illuminating the center of an otherwise dark space. The structure, circular in feeling, is actually a square with pews set diagonally within, so that the worshippers surround the altar. The hanging cross was carved by Mr. Hammarstrom.
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Built on land given by Mr. and Mrs. Carey Melville and Mrs. Melville Arnold, the Chapel expresses the spirit of Wellfleet in its materials and design. The shingled steeple above the altar is glimpsed among the pine trees from the Cape highway and can be seen from Cape Cod Bay. The creosoted studs and beams o the interior are reminiscent of old Wellfleet's fishing vessels. A shell forms the baptismal font, and the scallop shell - the emblem of the Apostle James, which was a familiar sign of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages - is symbolic of the local fishing industry and is the emblem of the town of Wellfleet. In the Chapel building as in the emblem, the Christian heritage and the life of the Christian community mingle with the daily life and activities of the beautiful place in which it is set.
The Chapel of St. James the Fisherman was a important center of the movement for liturgical renewal in the 1950s and 1960s. It continues to be our central purpose to offer our worship in ways that draw the worshippers together as a community and to stimulate both the heart and the mind.
We hope that all who come here may find not only a new excitement in the services of the Chapel but also the spiritual refreshment and peace that make vacation days complete and long-remembered.