Spc. Robert Zanfardino closed his eyes in prayer at the end of a Christmas Eve service in Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s oldest chapel.
He held a candle to his chest as hundreds of service members and veterans sang “Silent Night.”
“I liked the whole service, the feel of it,” said Zanfardino, 26.
“It’s comforting to be here.”
It was a big night for Lewis-McChord’s main chapel, its first service since it closed in 2011 for a $5.5 million renovation. On Monday, it filled to capacity with soldiers, family members and veterans who looked forward to a traditional holiday sermon.
Its 78-year-old marble pillars shined like they were new. Candlelight glistened off its arches and vaulted ceilings. The scent of freshly polished wood hung in the air.
The chapel retained its historic feel, even as it underwent a massive makeover that yielded elevators and new conveniences in classrooms and kitchens.
“You don’t find chapels anywhere like this in the military,” said retired Maj. Gen. Tom Cole of Olympia, who has attended the church for more than 20 years. Both of his children were married there.
He beamed for the Christmas service, handing out candles and shaking hands with old friends.
The base’s senior Army officer, Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, came just in time to lend a hand bringing out folding chairs to help out with packed pews. Cole gave him some instructions, marking one of the few times someone at Lewis-McChord would refer to the three-star general as “Bob.”
Brown placed the chairs as the retired general instructed.
“This church is home for many people,” Cole said.
Lewis-McChord has seven chapels and several decommissioned houses of worship that now serve new purposes. Its newest was built in 2008 at a cost of $8.2 million.
The classic one that reopened for Christmas cost $90,000 when it was built. It has stained-glass windows and a brick a facade that blends in with the oldest buildings on the base.
Yet Monday’s service was far more significant to the churchgoers for its Christmas message than it was for an opportunity to scope out an old building.
Col. Bart Physioc, chief of Lewis-McChord’s chaplains, stripped down that story to its simplest parts. He called a pack of first-, second- and third-graders to him and sat them down to tell them of Jesus’ birth.
“Is it a dinosaur story?” a child asked.
“It’s not a dinosaur story, but it’s an old story,” he replied.
He described Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, and the “heavenly host” that harkened Jesus’ birth.
His story peaked when he showed the children a nativity scene his grandmother made in 1961. It showed the manger and an assortment of animals. Something was missing - the centerpiece of the scene.
He asked two of the children to bring him a present from under the Christmas tree on his stage. They unwrapped it and found the centerpiece, the baby Jesus.
He brought home his sermon by playing on the word, “centerpiece.”
“It’s the centerpiece I want you to think about right now, the centerpiece, and it’s not the one spelled c-e-n-t-e-r-p-i-e-c-e.
“It’s center peace,” he said, calling on the worshipers to put their faith at the center of their lives.
The children went back to their seats and the church lights darkened for the candle ceremony. Zanfardino stood in uniform in the last pew, soaking up a comforting night in an old Army email@example.com