Monday, August 13, 2007

Annapolis Capital September 9, 2006

Community's well-kept secret endures


Rising among the trees at the intersection of two narrow winding roads is a small Gothic chapel little known outside the heavily wooded waterfront Annapolis community where it has stood since 1953.

The picturesque Epping Forest Chapel, sometimes called "the chapel in the forest," has been in place for two generations of residents who have financially supported its existence while half-heartedly attending its services.

Today the chapel is open for worship at 9:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Sundays of each month.

"We can vary between three and 15 at a service," said the Rev. Kenneth Foor, a community resident who fills the pulpit on the second Sunday. "But when we have a special occasion, like Christmas or Easter, we have a full house."

A turnout of 50 or so would fill the neat rows of pews that line both sides of the center aisle. One of these special events was the dedication of the new stained-glass windows in May, when the church was packed.

The windows, a gift from the residents, were the final piece of a major restoration that was done in 1999 and 2000. Everything was renewed and freshened with the exception of the Gothic-style glass windows at the front of the chapel, behind the pulpit.

"The original windows were opaque like those along the sides," said the Rev. Foor. "They were replaced with clear glass that looked out on to the surrounding trees. But members thought they would like to see a stained-glass window there."

The chapel committee sent out a notice for donations, as it had for the renovations and for the chapel construction itself, and residents opened their pocket books to finance the $10,000 project. The design agreed on was Christ as the Good Shepherd, and the assignment was given to the Art Glass Studio of Ellicott City.

"The people here are so wonderful - we put out a sign for contributions and people go by and give us the money we need," said Jeanette Mudd, treasurer of the Epping Forest Chapel Committee.

"Everyone who sees the window loves it," said the Rev. Foor. "It's comforting, inspirational and assuring. Christ holding the lamb is representative of all of us."

The chapel owes its existence to Harry Spencer, a resident in the 1940s who was plagued by arthritis, sometimes so crippled that he was forced to use a crutch, according to Florence Mulhern, who wrote a small booklet, "The Chapel in the Forest," describing its history.

Although Mr. Spencer lived in Epping Forest for only 10 years, he "had an unshakable belief in God and in his community's need for a place to worship," according to Ms. Mulhern. "He wanted the chapel to be a replica of the chapel in Epping Forest, England, which he attended as a boy, and with that memory to guide him, he drew up two plans for the Board of Directors to consider, one simple, one more elaborate. The simpler plan was chosen."

Mr. Spencer donated two lots for the chapel and set about not only building the structure but also raising money. Another resident contributed two lots, which were raffled off with tickets costing $1 apiece. The effort raised $600. The chapel's cornerstone was laid in 1951. Mr. Spencer died in 1955.

After its initial success as a community place of worship, the little chapel became neglected in the later years of the century when the summer residents, who at one time made up the majority of the homeowners, started staying year-round and joined churches elsewhere. However, it has become a choice location for christenings, weddings and memorial services.

"Attending services here feels like home," said the Rev. Foor, a resident for 23 years and ordained pastor of the Institute of Spiritual Development in Washington.

He shares the monthly pulpit with the Rev. James Mitchell of Heritage Harbour, a retired pastor who preaches on the fourth Sunday.

The Epping Forest community bordering the Severn River was founded in 1926 with the first sale of lots. It was strictly a summer community until after World War II when many residents began living in the hilly, forested community full-time.

Published 09/09/06, Copyright © 2007 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

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