Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Much of my youth was spent living in government quarters on Army posts. The quarters (houses) were all quite similar because they had all been built as part of the Works Progress Administration projects. The red brick was quite uniform. Walk down into the basement and you found exposed I-beams reading “Carnegie Steel.” Each post had several chapels. Of course, one of these would be designated “Main Post Chapel.” Main Post Chapel is the setting of a Christmas Eve memory.
Main Post Chapel at Fort Lewis Washington is an elegant red brick building overlooking the main parade field, lined with carefully pruned evergreen trees. Broad steps lead up to large solid wood doors opening into the chapel interior. There are tall stained glass window and a high peaked ceiling. The chapel is the setting for multiple services, both Catholic and Protestant. On Christmas Eve, this chapel was the setting of a long military tradition, a late evening service.
For decades, this special service was packed with military families, all dress in their finest. The officers and senior enlisted were all in their dress blue uniforms, think black tie, with a few junior sergeants and privates in their issued dress greens, the equivalent of a business suit. The service consisted mostly of Christmas hymns and carols, supported by a pipe organ and piano. The pipe organ was built in 1934, a Reuter Organ Co. Opus 452.
You came in out of the dark winter night, occasionally snowy, more often rainy (this was the Pacific Northwest), entering the lighted chapel decorated with greens and poinsettias. As you entered, you were handed a program for the service and a small candle with paper drip guard. As the service was reaching its conclusion, the lights were turned out and officiants in vestments lit candlelighters from the Christ candle on the Advent candle holder. The lights were carried down the center aisle, row by row.
Now, every year, immediately before this part of the service, the officiating chaplain would make the same plea. We are, after all, talking about a hundred or more open candle flames. “As you pass the light, please do not tilt the lit candle, only tilt the unlit candle to receive the light.” This was, after all, a military building, limited in its renovation and maintenance budget. The carpet had to last, and dripped candle wax all through the chapel just would not do.
Being a military congregation, right down to military kids, there was near universal compliance. Row by row brightened with candlelight until the whole chapel glowed in a warm light. As I remember, we filed out row by row, extinguishing the candles as we exited the sanctuary, our family driving home, just around the parade field, to Christmas tree lights and the scent of bayberry candles.Published in