The end of more than 60 years of service came to a close June 7 when Cantonment Chapel on Fort McPherson closed its doors during its decommissioning ceremony. “It’s sad but you got to go with the flow,” said Charles Rickmond, a parishioner since 1969.
Rickmond, 91, the oldest parishioner, joined the church when working for the Army Material Security Support Command at Fort Gillem. In his 42 years at the chapel, he has seen his share of memories, both happy, two of his children were married there, and sad, his wife, Beatrice Faye, had her funeral there.
Those memories and shared history is what made the day, brought on by the upcoming closure of Fort McPherson due to BRAC, so sad, said Chap. (Capt.) Fred Wendel, U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Catholic Chaplain. “There’s a lots of memories shared in space,” he said. “When something has meaning it is hard to let it go.”
The “letting go” will be felt not only by those who called the church home, but also the local community, which benefited greatly from the chapel and its outreach programs, said Col. Deborah Grays, USAG commander.
“For more than six decades you’ve been a beacon of hope for many,” Grays said. “For all you have done, I say thank you.” Just as she thanked the parishioners, Grays also thanked Wendel for his service in leading the church through its final days. “God sends right people to the right place at the right time,” she said when describing Wendell.
USAG chaplain, Chap. (Lt. Col.) Bob Phillips, shared Grays’ feelings on Wendel, describing him as a person who “steps into a room and brings a sense of peace.” Peace and reassurance is what Wendel attempted to bring to the congregation as they faced the closure of their church.
“It’s not about the building; it’s always been about what’s taking place inside,” he said. Adding God is not confined to one place, Wendel said people can still go out and do God’s work in a new church. Citing an earlier church reading from the book of Revelations, where God creates a new heaven and earth, he said it is time for parishioners to go and create a new home for God to do His work once the chapel doors closed.
“Behind those closed doors you’ll leave your physical history of being in this space. But we need to remember that new doors will open, new memories will be created and new faith communities will be experienced,” Wendel said. “With God’s grace there is always the possibility of something more, something good, something that says all will be OK.”
Going back further in the Bible, Phillips shared a similar message. Citing the story of Abram, who would later be known as Abraham and the father of the Jewish people, Phillips said God has likewise called the churchgoers “to leave all that’s familiar and just go.”
“You’re not the first to do this. People have always been called to go out with faith,” he said. “It’s sad but it is part of a journey God has called us on.” Though the call may take people out of their comfort zone, Phillips said God would not do it unless He had a purpose in mind. “God has plans and a purpose,” he said. “Just as Abram made altars along the way, now it is time to move on and build altars.”
Phillips encouraged to parishioners to maintain the faith that made the Catholic congregation so vibrant and loyal in doing God’s work. Still, moving on may be hard, as the community was very close knit, said George D’Ambrosia, a retired Air Force special agent. A member of the church for 10 years, he said the congregation was small, which allowed strong bonds to develop.
“We all know each other. Basically being a small community let us to know people more intimately,” D’Ambrosia said, adding those bonds will strengthen the group through the difficult transition. D’Ambrosia also said people can get through the change by keeping with their beliefs. “It’s a funeral if you will, but given our religious background, we know when you die you’re not really gone,” he said.