Born Of World War I, A Church To Remember Its Past

NEIGHBORS/Odenton, Ft. Meade, Gambrills

Armistice Celebration At Epiphany Episcopal

November 06, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

World War I soldiers visiting the Epiphany Episcopal Church in Odenton on Sunday would feel perfectly at home.

The church will evoke the aura of the war years at an armistice celebration during the morning service, complete with original mission furniture and the plaintive strains of period songs.

Built in 1918 for troops stationed at Fort Meade, the church served both as a chapel for soldiers heading off to war and a house for visiting family members. The building looks much the same as it did then, including a portrait of Gen. George G. Meade over the fireplace.

For Sunday's celebration, the Rev. Phoebe Coe has gathered additional memorabilia of the period, including soldier's hats, recruitment posters and postcards sent by soldiers stationed at the army base.

Some of the postcards, scribbled hastily before soldiers left for overseas, echo the pathos of young men facing trench warfare. "Dear Cousin," wrote one young recruit, "I don't know if I will be back or not. We don't know what this war is about."

Despite Epiphany's historic designation as Maryland's World War I chapel, Coe insists she is reviving more than military history.

"This is about social history,mementos of a time of enormous societal and religious change," says the priest. "The chapel was an important support for families."

Perched on a stepladder this week, Coe tacked up posters that read, "Feminine Patriotism" and "If you want to fight, join the Marines."

And she practiced one of the World War I songs that church members will perform Sunday. Visitors may look forward to a rendition of "How You Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm, After They've Seen Paree?" accompanied by a washboard, and such nostalgic tunes as "If I'm Not on the Roll Call, Kiss Mother Goodbye."

Some church members will turn out in military uniforms, and the church will be filled with poppies, in memory of the 1917 battle at Flanders Fields in Belgium, part of a campaign in which more than 300,000 soldiers, including more than 100,000 allies, lost their

lives.

A scrapbook from the first year ofthe church includes pictures from nearby Fort Meade, where soldiers practiced bayonet drills with dummies and built sandbag-topped trenches.

Property for the white-board chapel itself, located on Morgan Road in historic Odenton, was bought for $11,000 by two Washington women. The chapel was built in 60 days.

The architect who created City College in Baltimore, Riggen Buckler, created the plans for the chapel as his donation to the war effort. The structure remains an example of modern American architecture.

Several Episcopal dioceses built the chapel and church house as one structure, containing the chapel, bedrooms and a sitting room with a fireplace and Victrola.

"Wives and family members of boys going into Meade could come and spend time there," explains Coe, who has investigated the chapel's history with the help of Fort Meade curator James Speraw.

Chaplains from five denominations, four of whom went to France, served at the chapel.The chapel's service flag contained four silver stars, one for each chaplain serving overseas.

Epiphany has started a fund for restoration of the building as it was, particularly the exterior. The restoration project also would include a World War I museum, Coe says.

Coe, who has been involved in the research project for five years, recently found the 1918 scrapbook in the archives at Fort Meade. From the U.S. Army Field Band, she recovered World War I sheet music to incorporate into Sunday's service.

"We're using everything from very sad pieces to familiar songs such as 'Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here,' " Coe says.

The service will conclude with "Just a Child's Prayer at Twilight," a mournful ode to a painful time.

"We're building the service around the music, so it's not like a performance," says Coe. "It will be more what like it would have been, and it suits the mood of the church."

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