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Monday, April 28, 2003

The Halifax Herald Limited

Hymns, prayers and tears
Last service at Shannon Park Chapel tough for parishioners

By Amy Pugsley Fraser / Staff Reporter

As tearful parishioners sang Lift High the Cross, an ornate crucifix was ceremoniously carried out of Shannon Park Chapel during closing services Sunday.

The last service at the Armed Forces' church in Dartmouth was a harsh reality for many in Sunday's congregation.

"We were really the ears and the hearts for each other," Dawn Scott, a Sunday school teacher and women's guild member, said after the hour-long service.

"It was a close-knit family here."

Opened in 1957 to serve the Forces' brand new married quarters, the chapel's deconsecration and closure is part of a recent Defence Department decision to shutter the park, tucked between Tufts Cove and the A. Murray MacKay Bridge.

Mrs. Scott, who is the daughter of a chief petty officer and had her own daughter baptized in the chapel, said she found many kindred spirits at Shannon Park.

"I was familiar with my father being away a lot and, as a mother myself, I knew what it was like for those other moms when their husbands went away."

The Roman Catholic and Protestant congregations, who held separate Sunday services at the chapel, are now welcome at St. Brendan's Church at CFB Stadacona in Halifax.

But for many, the roots of their worship held fast at Shannon Park.

"There's a mixed emotion about leaving," longtime church member Katherine Molloy said at the closing reception.

She and her husband, who was part of the navy's submarine program, lived in nearby Wallace Heights for two years when they were first married.

Now living in Beaver Bank, she's not so sure that a new sanctuary will be worthy of the same half-hour commute she made so willingly every Sunday to Shannon Park.

"It was so nice to have a military connection here, to get the extra support."

The future of the chapel - outfitted with three huge wood carvings and 24 stained glass windows containing the crests of Canadian warships sunk during the Second World War - is unknown.

But much of its gracious interior will be salvaged and moved to other military buildings.

The bright windows - honouring ships like HMCS Spikenard and HMCS Raccoon - will be kept in storage until a suitable location can be found, the head of Maritime Forces Atlantic told Sunday's congregation.

"They will be protected until they have a permanent home," Rear Admiral Glenn Davidson said.

Although a move is afoot to return the windows to their spiritual home in St. George's Church at the former Cornwallis base in the Annapolis Valley, the rear admiral told the crowd he's hoping a memorial hall will be built within two years.

"They should be preserved and honoured and remain here."

He said there comes a time to say goodbye.

"There are many, many memories here - couples married, families christened . . . but sailors are a funny bunch.

"We're pretty sentimental, but when it's time to leave . . . we move on."

Likewise, the priest overseeing the French Roman Catholic congregation said he knows the spirit will carry on.

"The church is not the building," Capt. Guy D'Amours said. "It's God's church and it's always there."

One of 14 former clergy members who made the return pilgrimage for the deconsecration service says downsizing is a part of today's Armed Forces.

"This whole area is closing and going through another transition," Rev. Robert Chapman said of the park.

"And, unfortunately, the chapel ceases along with it."


Tim Krochak / Herald Photo
Cross held high, Capt. Guy D'Amours leads a procession of military chaplains into Shannon Park Chapel on Sunday.