By Debbie SheehanJuly 8, 2011
Chapel Closes With Prayers, Tears
by Debbie Sheehan
Public Affairs Office
“Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
The Irish Prayer.
Although it will always be the Post Chapel in the hearts of many, Building 500 is no longer a house of worship.
The Chapel was decommissioned June 29 in preparation for the post closure Sept. 15.
To Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Don Campbell the site represented the freedom on post for representatives of all faiths to worship.
Deputy Garrison Manager Martin Venturo said the Chapel was “the emotional centerpiece of our installation. For many it was a home away from home even if home was very far away.”
Venturo spoke of the many baptisms, marriages and memorials held at the site. He called it a place of “faith, hope and love” and a place to tend to “our spiritual and moral needs and the needs of a changing Army.”
He recalled the “Taste of Heaven” program that brought a home-cooked meal and spiritual guidance to the cadet candidates at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, many of whom regarded the weekly ritual as the highlight of their week.
Venturo also recalled all the programs the Chapel put on through the years: Vacation Bible School, the annual Prayer Breakfast and the Suicide Prevention Program among others.
He remembered how a Reservist with family living on post was injured in the Fort Hood massacre and how it gave him great comfort to be able to pick up the phone and call the chaplain and get someone to their house to see if they needed anything.
Venturo summed up his feelings by saying it was a sad day for all of us, but that there should be pride in the fact that the Post Chapel was a joint community.
Dan Wilson gave a brief history of the Chapel. Wilson’s father, Rev. David Wilson, was the Post Chaplain here in 1962 when the Chapel was constructed.
He said his father supervised the construction with great care. Wilson spoke of how his father was called to serve God.
“It was on a lake. My father had been swimming and was far from shore. He started to panic, but then prayed to God to get him to shore. He said if he got to shore, he would devote his life to God.”
He made it to dry land and went on to complete his vow, Wilson said. During his military career, he served God and country at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Wash. D.C., in Vietnam, at Fort Monmouth and elsewhere.
Wilson said his father would have enjoyed coming back to the Chapel, but he died in the late 1990s.
Chaplain (Col.) Hugh Mackenzie offered a prayer for the community. “God, you have made us to be a people of motion, pilgrims on the way. Time, like a rolling spring, forever leads the sons away. But in you we move and find our being. This flock needs you more than ever to guide us to a new place.”
Mackenzie asked God to comfort his people as they go to a new place where they will find friends and believers that they have not yet met.
Musical selections included: “The Star Spangled Banner,” a hymn composed with the words of “The Irish Prayer,” “A Mighty Fortress is our God” and “Ave Maria.”
Father John Campoli spoke briefly about how God has put a light in each of us with his love and that as the Chapel closes the congregation will be taking that light, that bit of Fort Monmouth, with them wherever they go.
In his reflections Campbell said he had been a chaplain at many installations, but he noted that the Fort Monmouth Post Chapel was the best because the people were so generous and so great. He said he hoped that it would once again be a house of worship in the future.
During the decommissioning ceremony, the colors were cased and the alter items: cross, bible, communion trays, chalice and candles were carried down the aisle and out of the building.
For many that was a very emotional moment. Members of the congregation cried and held on to one another.
Even Campbell, who insisted the service was not a funeral, had to compose himself and said “sorry folks, this is a tough one.”
Campbell said closing the Chapel was the last act of faith for its congregation, honoring freedom of religion. Then the order to close the Chapel was haltingly read and Building 500 was a chapel no more.
There was sorrow, but it vanished when those gathered streamed into Wilson Hall for food and fellowship. A complete catered buffet was served, including three going- away cakes.
As he left the building, Wilson called out that his father would have enjoyed seeing everyone eat together and laugh together.