Inviting chapel garden beckons visitors in from the storm
July 12, 2012
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - A subliminal message of serenity and calm begins at the front entrance of the Aberdeen Proving Ground main post chapel. Blue granite rocks line both sides of the walkway; seagulls and pelicans sit atop wood pylons and a lighthouse welcomes all those who are weary and in need of rest.
The installation's nearness to the Chesapeake Bay coupled with a desire to present a soothing, peaceful refuge for those in need of peace, inspired the theme for the adornment of the chapel and its garden, according to Chaplain (Maj.) Fred Townsend.
He said that after urging from former Garrison Chaplain (Col.) Wayne Boyd to, "make something out of the chapel garden, he "caught a vision" of presenting a visually peaceful atmosphere throughout the chapel grounds.
"Once you leave the parking lot you're out of the storm," Townsend said. "The storm could be stresses from work, relationships, finances, or any problems that wear on the mind and cause you distress. "
Across the chapel foyer is the entrance to the chapel garden, a square surrounded by glass on three sides and a brick dividing wall on the other. A sign on the wall reads "APG Harbor of Grace." Noting that this is the English translation for the nearby town of Havre de Grace, Townsend said that to avoid confusion, other signs read "APG's Harbor of Grace."
"Everything is suggestive of a little Maine harbor town," Townsend said of the garden. Wrought iron chairs and tables with umbrellas dot the seating area. Lush green plants line the walls and scattered pieces of driftwood rest on the mulch blanketing the plants. Wood pylons and Tiki torches decorate the area as well, along with sails mounted on the dividing wall. There is an outdoor fireplace and cooking area for barbecues and a wooden storage shack decorated with life rings, a bell and other seafaring knick-knacks. The most attractive decorations are the fountains - one made of smiling dolphins and another of children at play. The trickling waters of the fountains enhance the relaxing ambiance of the enclosure, Townsend said.
The highlight of the setting is the gazebo behind the dividing wall. The structure was dedicated as the Gold Star Family Gazebo in May during the Armed Forces Week breakfast for Maryland Gold Star families.
Townsend credits Maryland Gold Star Mothers president Carol Roddy with suggesting the name "Grace Landing" for the gazebo, indicating that this is the place of rest beyond the harbor. A boardwalk leads up to the gazebo which is surrounded by more Maryland blue granite rocks, their uneven peaks symbolizing calming waters. Spread around the structure - on the boardwalk and among the rocks - are more wood pylons, driftwood, seagulls, potted plants, a fountain and of course, the world-famous Maryland blue crabs. A string of LED lights line the roof of the gazebo and a solar street lamp lights the boardwalk. A lone lighthouse stands among the rocks -- a guide for people instead of ships.
Ten tons of granite were used in the design, Townsend said, noting that the rocks, which weigh an average of 8 pounds each, had to be placed stone by stone. He estimated that he placed nine of the 10 tons himself before he "ran out of steam."
The Catholic youth of the Chapel took over and did the rest, he said, adding his thanks for their help. More help came from the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy whose cadets worked for days, collecting and spreading wood chips, planting plants and toting wood pylons.
Townsend said the pylons were made from cut up segment of used telephone poles. The cadets collected these and the wood chips in trash barrels from the nearby woods, wheeled them over and spread them out, installed the pylons, planted plants and more, all without once complaining about the heat or the rain.
"They caught the vision too," Townsend said. "And they worked with such enthusiasm. Many of those kids are from rough backgrounds and had never been a part of anything like this. We'd be out there soaking wet from the rain and covered with wood chips and they never complained. Most of them would ask to come back and do more. They were seeing it come to life and I can't help but believe this was a life-changing experience for them."
He added thanks to Public Works director Thomas Kuchar and DPW civilian Carl Wheeler for their help in acquiring the gazebo.
Chapel tithes and offerings funds paid for the granite and furniture and another $1,500 in personal donations paid for all the decorations and knick knacks, he said.
Inside the screened-in gazebo are wrought-iron patio tables and chairs and small seafaring knick knacks dot the walls of the structure inside and out.
Townsend said it all was done for one reason.
"We want people to come in from their storms to a harbor that is safe," he said, adding that already, Soldiers and civilians come to sit in the garden or the gazebo during their lunch breaks. Some read, some simply contemplate.
"We want people to believe they are safe here," he continued. "This is a place where you can relax and focus on things you need to focus on. You can't do it in the workplace because that's where the stress is.
"This is a place for you to contemplate, or fellowship; to sit without judgment, without preaching.
Directorates are encouraged to hold gatherings in APG's Harbor of Grace [the garden] or in Grace Harbor [the gazebo], he said.
"It's yours, just clean it up when you're done. Most of all, enjoy it. "
"The world is an ocean where you sometimes get tossed to and fro and really don't have that much control," he added.
"And even when you leave work you get back in your boat and head out to sea where the perils of life exist. But you can always set your compass back to APG's Harbor of Grace and know that it's a shield and a place of safety."
"Come here, take time out and learn to laugh again. This place was built with the Lord's blessing so all who come here will have a sense of grace."
Directorates or sections wishing to reserve APG's Harbor of Grace [the garden] or Grace Harbor [the gazebo] can contact Joyce Wood at 410-278-4333 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.