Religion and Ethics Saturday, May 11, 2002
A 'faithful' legacy
Post Chapel rededicated, beckoning all who'd enter
Deseret News senior writer
From the beginning, the Post Chapel at Fort Douglas held a special place in the hearts and minds of the
Finished in 1884, the Post Chapel was the first building completed during that expansion period. And it was no ordinary building, incorporating a bell-tower and arched, stained-glass windows and other features not often seen at military posts of the times.
Faith is, and always has been, important to soldiers, says Col. Berris Samples, Deputy Command Chaplain with the 96th Regional Support Command, and currently stationed at Fort Douglas. "This building has a long legacy of supporting people of all faiths." Soldiers were blessed here before going off to war; funerals for most of the soldiers buried in the Fort Douglas cemetery were held here. Worship services were held; weddings were performed. The Post Chapel was an important part of life for those stationed at the fort and for others in the community.
And that legacy will continue, as the chapel enters the newest phase of its life. On Tuesday, following an extensive renovation and restoration program, the Post Chapel was rededicated as an Interfaith House of Worship at the University of Utah.
"As we think about all we've been through to get here, this is truly a cause for celebration," U. President J. Bernard "Bernie" Machen, told those assembled in the chapel for the service. "We are so pleased to have a number of different groups here: people from the university, from the military, donors who have made this possible, members of the faith community."
The chapel is part of the Fort Douglas property that was transferred to the university in the early 1990s to be used as the Olympic Village for the 2002 Winter Games and for student housing as the Fort Douglas Heritage Commons.
When it was closed in 1991, the building was the oldest continuously operational military chapel in the United States. It was also in sad shape.
"It was a close call as to whether it would be torn down," says Machen. The chapel was originally constructed for $4,500. The restoration project cost close to $1 million.
"We could have torn it down and built something new for much less than that," he says. But they also knew that there were things more important than a price tag: continuity, legacy, community, the spirit of faith embedded in the old wooden walls. The decision was made to keep the Post Chapel as a welcoming sanctuary for people of all faiths.
Architects for the project were Eaton and Mahoney; construction work was done by Big D. Project manager was Brad Merritt, of the university's Construction and Design office.
"But it would not have been possible without generous donors from the faith community and others," says Machen.
A key role was played by the Rev. Canon Frederick Quinney Lawson of the Cathedral Church of St. Mark, and his mother, Janet Lawson. But contributions also came from Episcopalians, Lutherans, Catholics, the Baha'i faith and others. "Many faiths came together, and that legacy will continue," Machen says.
And, says Maj. Gen. James Collins, commander of the 96th Regional Support Command, which still has a presence at Fort Douglas, "it's a wonderful opportunity for soldiers stationed here to stay in touch with their history. It continues to be a tangible reminder of the sacrifices the military has made to keep our country free. It would have been so sad to lose this."
Of all the military connected with the Post Chapel, Samples is especially touched by the story of Allen Allensworth, whom he calls "the most famous soldier to walk the streets of Fort Douglas."
Allensworth was born a slave. He fought in the Civil War. He became a Baptist minister and then returned to the military to serve his country, becoming the chaplain for a group of Buffalo Soldiers stationed at Fort Douglas in 1896. "He was the second black chaplain in the U.S. Army, and the first chaplain to become a major."
Allensworth established a school in the Post Chapel, where among other things he taught culinary arts.
It was a sentiment echoed by Rev. Lawson, who led the celebratory prayer. "This has always been a sacred place. It has already been set aside as a holy place. We rejoice in its renovation and affirm its position. It has a long history of supporting women and men of all faiths. And its continued presence will make the university and the community richer."
As it has done for more than a hundred years, the Post Chapel will continue to offer hope, love, peace and understanding to all who seek it.
"It is an inviting space that welcomes all, is to be used by all," said Rev. Lawson. "For all can find the Creator here."