FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Joyful noise filled the North Fort Chapel on Sunday morning.

It began on the altar with the adult choir, spread quickly through the congregation in the pews and rose toward the heavens until it occupied the farthest reaches of the cavernous space.

"It was exciting today, but there (are) some Sundays when it's even more exciting than what you saw today," Mildred Farrow said after the two-hour service. "This is just a warm up."

Hard to imagine. In their music and their spoken words, the members of the congregation had just provided plenty of warmth and spirit in the weekly 11 a.m. Grace Gospel Service at the chapel. But if anyone could measure the service's intensity, it would be the 79-year-old Farrow, who has experienced it for all of its 35 years.

In 1973, Farrow's daughter went to the new Grace Gospel Service on Fort Lewis and then told her mother about it.

"She came back so excited about this new church, and the first Sunday that I had an opportunity, I was there," Farrow recalled. "And I've been affiliated (with it) ever since."

What kept her coming back'

"We were going back to the type of service that I was used to going to as a Baptist African-American ... worshipper in my hometown, which was Pensacola, Fla.," Farrow said. "It began to make me feel more at home. When I had the opportunity, I took it."

Many others obviously have felt the same way since then. On Nov. 9, 2008, Grace Gospel, the oldest worship service on Fort Lewis, celebrated its 35th anniversary.

"We know that there's going to be change," said Yvonne Jones, who began coming to the services in 1973 as a 13-year-old and is now 48 and married. "That's just a part of life. And you keep going. And to keep it together, you have to be strong, knowing that people are going to come and go. It's a part of life."

It's especially true of the military life, where relocation is a given.

"That's one of the hardest parts being here at the chapel," said William Jones, Yvonne's husband. "You meet good people, and then you have to say goodbye."

The Joneses met in 1978 at the service, which has had numerous homes on post.

Begun in what is now Evergreen Chapel, it moved to the new North Fort Chapel in July 2008. Churches are more than bricks and mortar, however.

"We're like a family here," said Hattie Watson, another charter member. "If anything happened to you here, one of the brothers or sisters, well, they'll be sure to check on you.

"I just felt like I was at home with this service, and that's why I just continue coming back."

As active-duty Soldiers and their family members come through Grace Gospel, they can draw on the stability and wisdom of the congregation's military retirees and their families.

"We can tell them that we've been down this road, and we can help you along the way," said Margie Mayberry, whose husband is Rev. Arthur Mayberry, senior minister. "We are a very supportive family. We try our best to help them meet their needs. We really support each other here."

"We try to set examples so our examples can be carried on," said Jacqueline Holland. "It has to be spiritual, and that's what we're all about.

"That's our goal, is to support our young people and support our church and carry the gospel."
The Grace Gospel family has flourished. On an average Sunday, 300 or more members file into North Fort Chapel.

"We have a lot more worshippers now," Yvonne Jones said. "It's grown over the last 35 years."

Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.