Scenes from a Chapel


On Sunday I took my children to CCD (when I was growing up it was Catechism, then for my eldest daughter it was called PRE - but in reality it is what is commonly known as "Sunday School").  The room they use (on our local army base) is the same room the Protestant children use for their Sunday School classes, the same room where Alcoholics Anonymous meets, next door to the room the Wiccans use twice a week for their meetings, and three doors down from the room where the Sikh Guru Granth Sahib rests under a canopy inside a closet and is taken out for meetings.

After CCD, we walked past the Muslim worship area, with it's framed poster of Mecca on the correct wall, it's rugs artfully arranged on the floor, and a beautifully done portrait of the profession of faith.  Right next door to that we passed the Jewish worship area, with it's mezuzah on the door and a door connecting it to the special kitchen with it's dishes and area set up to prepare kosher food.

Finally we came to the room where my second daughter needed to change into her altar serving outfit, which is kept in the same room as the choir robes for the Gospel service.  After changing, we waited at the door to the chapel while the Protestant service ended.  As the attendees filed out, we all greeted each other, shaking hands and having some small talk.  We see each other every Sunday, you see, and consider ourselves quite good friends.  Since the service ran a little long, some of the people at the end of the line leaving the Protestant service obligingly opened the little boxes on the wall which contain the Stations of the Cross.  They are closed unless we are celebrating the Catholic Mass.

This somewhat describes our routine every week, and indeed each week-day when we have business to attend to at the chapel we attend.  It's always been this way, as our family has nearly always chosen to attend base chapel rather than attending church off base.  Part of that is because it is just more comforting to be surrounded by people who know exactly what we're going through and the vast spiritual crises that can occur.  Just speaking for myself, I find myself more comfortable asking the Jewish or LDS chaplain on base for help in a military situation, Catholic though I may be, than I do trying to explain the situation to someone in a civilian Catholic church.   Also, I got sick of "church shopping" every time we moved.

I have to admit that earlier when I read about the removal of the trees from SeaTac airport, I blinked in confusion.  After all, the current display in front of our chapel includes a Menorah and a Manger Scene, not merely some trees doo-dahed up with pretty lights and bows.  To be sure, there aren't any Buddhist decorations in front of the chapel right now, but that's because at the moment there is no huge Buddhist celebration going on. 

Celebration or lack thereof notwithstanding, the entrance to our chapel building has literature and displays for each and every group that has requested worship time in the building and which has a military group that attends.  There is a Buddhist display, as well as free copies of the Bhagavad Gita for Hindu servicemembers (that one is a new addition - and they were placed out as soon as a servicemember requested them).  There is a Protestant display, a Catholic display, camouflage copies of the Koran and Muslim literature, and notices that servicemembers needing specially designed Tefellin for worship in the field should contact the Jewish Chaplain.

Obviously, there are still issues with religion on base and we aren't coexisting in some Utopian paradise of love and hugs with choirs of angels singing as we walk down paths of gold.  In fact, one of the first sights I was treated to upon reaching this base was an argument between the leaders of two different religious services about a parking space and it's being used by someone else when it isn't the holy day of the religion it belongs to.  And official policy still has a ways to go to catch up with the actual religious make-up of the military.

But lets be honest, who can you come in contact with nearly every day and NOT argue with?  It happens, since we're all human and none of us perfect.  There will always be work to be done.   No one would say that there is a perfect harmony of religions in the military; and I hate to be the one to break this to the world, but there never will be.  Anywhere.  All we can do  is our best to make everyone feel welcome and thanked for their service and try to address those situations where bad things occur.

But as I watched the situation at SeaTac unfold, I couldn't help but think that in this situation civilians could take a very big cue from the military - on how to be respectful.  Maybe the SeaTac officials should visit our base to see how it is possible to coexist - even with disagreements arising - without taking a page from the Grinch and banning all displays of religion.

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