Odenton chapel began in World War I

'IF WE BREAK FAITH WITH THOSE WHO DIE'

November 09, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff Writer

The dun-colored World War I shovel and helmet on a table at Epiphany Episcopal Church yesterday made sharp contrast with the glowing ruby and gold of the stained-glass windows.

But the two fit together: The chapel has offered light and hope to those in trying times since it was built to serve the military 75 years ago, said the Rev. Phoebe Coe, speaking at the church's Armistice Day celebration.

The Odenton chapel's mission remains to serve those engulfed in modern-day wars of the body and soul, Ms. Coe said.

Red paper poppies graced the service. A minister quoted "Flanders Fields," a poem written in memory of the 1917 battle in Belgium, part of a campaign in which more than 300,000 soldiers lost their lives.

" 'If we break faith with those who die . . . ' " quoted Ms. Coe.

"That poem is almost like a prayer," she said. "We must not break faith with those who die."

Ms. Coe spoke of the thousands of soldiers who fought in rat-infested trenches, of the nightmarish bittersweet smell of mustard gas. One hundred Americans died each day of the 15 months the United States fought in World War I.

Into this horror, for the soldiers and their families, came the chapel and church house in 1917, she said.

Not far from the wooden barracks of Fort Meade, the church served as a chapel for soldiers heading off to war and a house for their visiting family members. Three Episcopal dioceses built the chapel and church house as one structure, containing the chapel, four 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," said Ms. Coe, who has helped investigate the chapel's history.

Now Maryland's official World War I chapel, the building looks much the same as it did then, including a portrait of Union Gen. George G. Meade over the fireplace.

The minister, who has been involved in the research project for several years, found the 1918 scrapbook in the archives at Fort Meade. Last year, she recovered World War I sheet music from the U.S. Army Field Band.

Property for the white-board chapel itself, on Morgan Road in historic Odenton, was bought for $11,000 by two Washington women. The Daughters of the American Revolution donated the mission furniture. The chapel was built in 60 days.

Chaplains from five denominations, four of whom went to France, served at the chapel.

Three-quarters of a century later, Epiphany Episcopal's task of supplying "the intangibles of hope and faith" is as urgent as it was during wartime, Ms. Coe told the congregation.

Memorabilia on display included soldiers' hats and postcards sent by soldiers stationed at the army base. "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."

"The questions asked during war: Why are we here? What will happen to us if we die? are questions the church can answer," Ms. Coe said. "There is old knowledge here about our ability to respond to the needs of people in the darkest of days, to help people who grow weary from all kinds of wars."

The way the church can do that, Ms. Coe said, is to "experience the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the midst of present-day struggles," such as the war against acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

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