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World War I-Era Chapel In Md. Showcases Artifacts

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By THERESA WINSLOW

The Capital of Annapolis

ODENTON, Md. (AP) — The Rev. Phebe McPherson calls it a “Whoville” moment.

On a cold Christmas Eve nine years ago, members of Epiphany Chapel & Church House in Odenton gathered in a circle in the gutted interior of the sanctuary and welcomed in the holy day.

There was no heat, and nothing inside save a string on Christmas lights and a 12-foot tree. Renovations had emptied the historic church, but the warmth of fellowship filled the hall, just as at the end of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” McPherson said.

“We were without a church we all considered a treasure,” she said. “We’d been worshipping in a warehouse, but when we all got there around that tree. It was a very beautiful moment.”

The same feeling hit McPherson 25 years ago when she first spied the historic building — the only known World War I-era chapel in the country. When she arrived, there were 30 members and the building was covered in aluminum siding. Now, there are 300 members and the church has been restored and updated by a $2 million project in 2004.

Still, many people don’t know about the structure, which functions as both Epiphany Episcopal Church and a museum for World War I-era artifacts. There’s also a Peace Garden outside that includes bronze plaques that list the names of all 2,928 chaplains who served in the war. The church was built in 1918 for young soldiers at nearby Camp Meade, as Fort George G. Meade was known at the time.

“The past, the present and the future meld here,” said McPherson, who serves as rector.

Her current mission is trying to raise people’s awareness about the chapel, as well as raise money. The funds would pay off the $500,000 still owed for the renovations, establish an endowment fund for care of the property, and prepare for the 100th anniversary of the war’s armistice.

A two-year campaign kicks off Saturday with a daylong event that includes a book sale, bake sale, barbecue, auction and live music.

The church also just got a new 10-foot-tall sign on nearby Route 175.

“I love this place,” said McPherson. “I love every inch of it. I’ve scrubbed every inch of it. It’s wonderful.”

To say Jim Conboy grew up with Epiphany Church isn’t an understatement.

Conboy was born just three years after the church was built, was baptized there and has remained a member ever since. He’s currently senior warden and serves as lay leader of the congregation.

“It’s part of me, I guess,” said Conboy, who will turn 90 next month.

Some of his fondest memories are of walking from his home to the church with his parents for worship when he was a young boy.

“Jim is the backbone of the place,” McPherson said.

Earlier this week, he was outside tending the Peace Garden. The garden has a stone bench dedicated to his family. For Conboy’s upcoming birthday, McPherson plans to present him with a 500-page book detailing the history of the parish.

McPherson, a history buff, gathered the information for the book. She has also collected many of the items in the museum, which begins at the rear of the sanctuary and continues upstairs.

She said the church was a perfect fit for her not only because of the feeling of fellowship it gives her, but because of her long-standing interest in design from the Arts and Crafts movement, which encompasses the time the chapel was built.

The museum has everything from trench art (decorative items made by soldiers from shell casings and other materials) and uniforms to music of the period and original poster art. Military ribbons andmedals, along with items such as a gas mask and trench shovel, also are featured, but McPherson stresses that the museum is intended as social history display.

She enjoys giving tours by appointment.

“Why wouldn’t anyone want to come see it and worship here?” she said.

Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://www.hometownannapolis.com/

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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