Discovering Epiphany Chapel and Church House is like finding a valuable coin mixed in a jar of pennies you had almost forgotten. To the casual eye, the little church appears to be a quaint cottage of yesterday. 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. Epiphany Chapel and Church House is worn but far from worn out. It’s an ordinary little church with an extraordinary history and an important role for the future of military chaplaincy and the work of the Church in Odenton and beyond. The Chapel’s astounding story of commitment and faith has emerged from many pages of news articles, reports, letters, photographs, and detailed daily schedules. It is a story about difficult times and extraordinary people.
The original project in 1918 was supported by members of the Church War Commission from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington and by two women from Washington, D.C. who gave $11,000 for its construction. A young architect from Baltimore gave the design, gratis. Clergy staff, under the leadership of a young and dynamic chaplain, the Rev. S. Tagart Steele, Jr., was pulled together. The operation was up and running in 60 days. Enlisting young soldiers were welcomed with worship services, dinners, dances, and counseling. Family members were invited to spend the night in the accommodations on the second floor, to spend time together and to say “good-bye.”
Tradition tells the story about a deacon, St. Laurence (d. 258), who in response to a command from the prefect of Rome to deliver up the church’s treasure, assembled thousands of ordinary people — the poor, children, widows, orphans, rich and poor, and presented them to the prefect saying, “These are the treasure of the Church.” Today, the preservation of Epiphany Chapel and Church House and the establishment of The Chaplains’ Peace Garden is just such an offering—an acknowledgment and tribute to the ordinary men and women who gave all they had for the well-being, safety, and freedom of others.
These are the extraordinary treasure of Epiphany Chapel and Church House.