KEEPING THE HOME FIRES BURNING: On Monday, June 3, 1918, in Odenton, a chapel for the benefit of the soldiers at Camp Meade was dedicated by Bishop John Gardner Murray, assisted by Bishop Thomas J. Garland of Pennsylvania. (Read More)
The only known WWI Chapel in the United States – Consecrated on June 3, 1918
KEEPING THE HOME FIRES BURNING
On Monday, June 3, 1918, in Odenton, a chapel for the benefit of the soldiers at Camp Meade was dedicated by Bishop John Gardner Murray, assisted by Bishop Thomas J. Garland of Pennsylvania. The chapel was named Epiphany after the church in Washington attended by Mrs. Margaret Buckingham and Miss Elizabeth Freeman, the donors of the building and furniture. This service was attended by many of the clergy and laity from the dioceses of Maryland, Washington, and Pennsylvania: General Nicholson, Commandant of Camp Meade and a number of officers and soldiers from the camp. The building contained in addition to the chapel, a dormitory for the accommodation of chaplains and visitors to the doughboys. Meanwhile the old church which had ministered to the needs of the people in this part of Anne Arundel County was forced to discontinue its ministrations to some extent, because it was situated in the heart of the camp. It became a building devoted almost exclusively to war purposes. Finally it burned, apparently due to carelessness on the part of officers or soldiers of the camp. At the conclusion of the World War and the returning soldiers being mustered out of the service, the usefulness of Epiphany Chapel as a war chapel vanished. The building was then turned over to the communicants of the old parish, St. Peters, for use as a parish church.
This brief account of the establishment of Epiphany Chapel and Church House, now recognized as the only known WWI Chapel in the United States, was published in The Maryland Churchman in December 1936. It was the introduction to an impassioned appeal for donations to preserve the Chapel which was in need of a new roof and other repairs. The writer, George D. Watts, compared the the chapel in Odenton to the chapel at Valley Forge and Christ Church, Alexandria. “Generations yet unborn,” he pleaded, “will
visit this hallowed place if it is perpetuated for them.” The life and condition of the chapel ebbed and waned for another fifty years as it shifted with the economic and demographic tides. Its proud history as a World War Chapel was all but lost, save for a scrapbook compiled by the chaplains who staffed the chapel in 1918. It was this scrapbook, carefully preserved by Garner Rainey, archivist for The Diocese of Maryland, that was rediscovered in 1987 and made it possible for the recognition and restoration of the chapel. Among many financial supporters is The Maryland Historical Trust which holds three legal easements on the property to insure its preservation. The original scrapbook contained photographs, schedules, news articles, contracts, and letters that would be pieced together in order to discover the story of the chapel and lead to its preservation. Over a 30-year period, The Rev. Dr. Phebe McPherson and members of the Epiphany congregation raised the funds necessary to complete the project and in addition established a chaplain’s peace garden naming every WWI chaplain on bronze plaques and a social history museum with a collection of trench art, posters, books, furniture, photographs and music. Currently the congregation is redesigning its cemetery as the WWI Centennial Memorial Gardens to include a WWI Centennial sculpture. McPherson serves as a commissioner for the Maryland WWI Centennial Commission.
Discovering Epiphany Chapel and Church House is like finding a valuable coin mixed in the jar of pennies you had almost forgotten. To the casual eye, the little white church appears to be a quaint cottage of yesterday, a bit like “grandma’s house.” In fact, its design was given gratis by Riggin Buckler and represents a fine example of the Arts and Crafts period in American architecture. The front stoop is worn where so many feet have passed, the center floor beam is weighed down with memories, and a discernible spirit of hospitality shines like the patina on the old oak furniture. It’s obvious the moment you enter that this is a place where people have “kept the home fires burning” for their loved ones who were far from home in trenches fighting a war that all hoped would be “the war to end all wars.” Providing the chapel was The Rev. Taggart Steele’s idea. He wanted to establish a place where chaplains could help support the troops who were being deployed through Camp Meade. At first he sought use of an old house in the middle of the camp but was told it was being used for Belgium Relief Work. Undeterred from his mission,
he secured funds, an architect, and the blessings from three surrounding dioceses and the Church War Commission in Baltimore. He was chaplain-in-charge at the chapel until he and four other civilian chaplains enlisted and were deployed to France. A service flag with five stars hung above the chapel entrance.
Epiphany is a well-prayed-in chapel. It’s an ordinary little church with an extraordinary history. The chapel’s mission was to be a home away from home, a place where soldiers could gather for fellowship, counseling, worship, and to say farewell to loved ones. Family members were invited do spend the night in the accommodations on the second floor. From its very inception it was to be a place where all people are welcome, regardless of their religious affiliation, race, or ethnicity. Among the many period stained
glass windows, there is only one pictorial window. It depicts Jesus with the children surrounded by families. A strange selection for a military chapel? Hardly. It acknowledges that every soldier is someone’s child, someone’s parent, someone’s son or daughter. It acknowledges that when soldiers go to war, their families go too. The late Tom MacNemar, son of the local town doctor in 1918, remembered when the Armistice was announced. “I was four years old. The train whistles blew, the church bell rang. My mother took me by the hand and we ran down Odenton Road. We ran right into the chapel, up to the front pew, and got on our knees to thank God that the war was over and that my father would be coming home.”
Epiphany Chapel and Church House still stands as an active congregation serving the community and to give new generations a chance to remember those who made many personal sacrifices—the ones who fought and the ones who stood behind them. With the same spirit of inclusivity and support, Epiphany Chapel “welcomes all” and “keeps the home fires burning.”
For a virtual tour go to Google Street View:
Epiphany Episcopal Church, 1419 Odenton Road, Odenton, MD 21113
Vestry and Leadership Today
The Reverend Dr. Phebe McPherson has served as rector of Epiphany Church for almost 30 years during which the congregation has grown into a vital pastoral-size church with people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. The campus now includes a state of the art children’s center. The 100 year old chapel has been fully restored inside and out. As the only WWI Chapel in the US it features a WWI social history museum and a Chaplains’ Peace garden. Dr. McPherson was the first woman ordained in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland in 1977. Her doctoral thesis in 2007 focuses on racial reconciliation and has been selected for publication by Virginia Theological Seminary. She has served as a chaplain at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, many diocesan and national church committees, and commissions focusing on woman and the legacy of slavery in Maryland for Anne Arundel County and the state of Maryland. She loves the theatre and is currently working on a first class production, “Givin’ it Up: A Broadway Jazz Musical” featuring the music of Donald Byrd. She is married to the Reverend Bruce McPherson who has served as interim rector for many congregations in Maryland, DC, and Virginia.
Donald Deen serves as Epiphany’s Senior Warden. He and his family have been faithful members for a number of years. Donald was born in Sierra Leone and was an active leader as a youth in the Anglican church in Freetown. Thanks to his grandmother he was able to come to the United States for his continuing education. He worked for the Marriott Corporation and received his MBA from Columbia University. He currently works for a PSAV and oversees operating revenues for events/conventions for such clients as the World Bank, Pew, DNC and RNC.
Senior Warden Emeritus
After many years as Senior Warden, James (Jim) H. Conboy now bears the honorary title of Senior Warden Emeritus. He was born in 1921 and baptized at Epiphany in 1923. He is the first person many people see when they enter the church. He’s there every Sunday with a gracious welcome and handing out the service bulletins. He continues to serve as a trustee of the Epiphany Cemetery.
The Rev. Carl Harris, Associate
Dr. Maryellen Polvino-Bodnar, Pastoral Associate
Dr. Mark Hardy, Choir Director
Debbie Leonard, Sunday School
Officers of the Congregation
James H. Conboy, Senior Warden Emeritus
Donald Deen, Senior Warden
Bert James, Ric Peri – Junior Wardens
Michael Gorham – Treasurer
Alex deWit, Assistant Treasurer
Jackie Savage, Registrar
Committees & Guilds
Carol Henry, Altar Guild Director
Mabel Quarcoopome, Coordinator for Lay Readers
Coral Codner, Service Guild President
Joe Martin, Refugee Ministry Coordinator
Dave Savignac & Bert James, B&G ClubMeade Village Coordinator
Jim Conboy (Emeritus), Kathleen de Wit, Shawn Milleville, Donna Watts-Lamont Cemetery Trustees
LOCATION 1419 Odenton Road Odenton MD 21113
All Are Welcome!