Chapels offer a haven
March 2 2001 by Harley Cecil , Retired Chaplain, Murdoch Center

Chapels offer a haven | Friday, March 2, 2001
  • Chaplain Ron Cyr, Caswell Center, Kinston (252) 559-5100, Ext. 5649
  • Chaplains Jim Liestman and Willis Herman, Murdoch Center, Butner, (919) 575-7967
  • Chaplain William Conlon, O'Berry Center, Goldsboro (919) 581-4561
  • Chaplain William Robertson, Western Carolina Center, Morganton (828) 433-2812

    A fifth residential facility for persons with developmental disabilities is the Black Mountain Center. This center serves 73 individuals and an equal number of persons with Alzheimer's handicaps. This chapel is located on a campus that formerly served patients with tuberculosis. Though their chapel was not built as a part of the four chapel project, the clients and staff welcome visitors and volunteers. The contact person is Chaplain Don Lederer, (828) 669-3219.

  • Friday, March 2, 2001

    Chapels offer a haven

    By Harley Cecil Retired Chaplain, Murdoch Center N.C. Baptists, in their observance of Mental Retardation Month, can include a celebration of the fruits of a statewide project that began 25 years ago. In the last quarter of the 20th century, Southern Baptists joined other North Carolina citizens in raising and contributing money to build chapels on the campuses of North Carolina's centers for persons with developmental disabilities.

    Today, the 1,800 individuals with developmental disabilities, who live at the Caswell Center in Kinston, Murdoch Center at Butner, O'Berry Center at Goldsboro, and the Western Carolina Center at Morganton, are benefiting from and are grateful for the efforts of caring fellow citizens.

    In the mid-60s, clients on the various campuses were dreaming of having "a real church." Dissatisfied with having church services in makeshift places, they started contributing their own coins and encouraging their families and staff members to join them in raising funds to build chapels. They contributed enthusiastically from their meager on-campus earnings.

    Sandra, a current and faithful worshipper at one of the chapels each Sunday says, "This is my church. I helped build it." And she did, with her tithe, as well as her offerings.

    At another center, Eddie claims ownership of his chapel. Because of his speech difficulties, he is unable to verbalize his "this-is-my-church" ownership. He does it in another way. He serves as an assistant to the chaplain. Fifteen minutes before the service, he faithfully rings the tower bell and prepares for his acolyte responsibilities. It was Eddie's idea that he offer acolyte training to a few of his fellow parishioners so the privilege of lighting candles could be shared. Recently, Eddie has been given the responsibility of leading the singing of his congregation.

    Mickey, an upbeat spirit at another chapel, proudly distributes bulletins for the worship services even though he is legally blind, has a hearing impairment and experiences difficulty in walking. Recently, he increased his responsibilities by becoming a member of the choir.

    Sarah, a visually impaired worshipper, has extraordinary musical capabilities. She plays the organ at chapel services and says in her incomplete sentences, "... organ just like Duke Chapel." Though the 30-year old small electronic organ does not match the grandeur of the pipe organ at Duke Chapel, Sarah's self-esteem is nurtured as she, like other organists, shares her talents with her congregation.

    The chapels where Sandra, Eddie, Mickey, and Sarah worship are uniquely designed and stand as a religious symbol inside and outside. A first-time visitor to one of the chapels paused and said; "There's something special about this place. It has a feeling."

    The church language and bright interior colors of each chapel enables the chaplains to convey a spiritual message to those special individuals who struggle with life's everyday human needs and problems, but whose styles of life have to be coupled with slowed thinking power. They use puppets, role-playing, lessons with objects, films and pictures to present their messages to parishioners who feel and see more accurately than they think. The beauty of each chapel enhances the effort of the chaplains to convey the messages of personal worth, hope, kindness, forgiveness, solace, morals and love of God. Services of worship are characterized with spontaneity and congregational participation.

    In addition to being a place for Sunday and weekday services, staff and families express appreciation for the value the chapels provide as helpful places to express grief. One chaplain indicated recently that he remembers pre-chapel days when memorial services were held at inappropriate places, sometimes amidst the noise and routine of residential areas.

    The chapel is a focal point on each campus. They are the preferred meeting place. They serve mostly campus needs but are available to off-campus service-oriented groups as well.

    The four chapels began from the ideas and coins of the clients at the centers, but it was caring citizens of North Carolina who helped Jerome get his "real church," with his special request honored that his church "have stone (stained) glass windows."

    Their efforts and visions were given "wings and feet" by Carlos Young, a Shelby Baptist layman. At the 1975 Baptist State Convention, he expressed concern for the spiritual welfare of persons living in North Carolina's Centers for the Retarded. On his motion, messengers approved a plan to invite citizens of North Carolina to help accomplish the goal of building four chapels.

    As a result, a nonprofit organization, "Chapels for North Carolina Centers for the Retarded" was formed. The Board of Directors was made up of representatives from churches, civic, fraternal and community organizations. Vassar Jones, a United Methodist minister was elected chairman. Charles Dunn, now deceased, but then deputy director of the State Bureau of Investigation, was president. Bob Stallings, a Trinity Baptist layperson from Raleigh, was treasurer.

    Under the sponsorship of the North Carolina Jaycees, Ed Shifflett, a Kernersville marathon runner, did a Murphy-to-Manteo run to publicize the fundraising effort. Local congregations of all faiths were encouraged to ask for a one-dollar donation from each member. Baptists led the way with contributions totaling nearly $150,000. Businesses and civic groups were invited to participate. Thousands of small donations and a few large ones characterized the money raising project which had as its theme, "You Light Up My Life," a popular song in the 70s.

    In addition to the monetary contributions, families of clients, individuals and businesses donated specific items such as furnishings, pianos, tower bells and an organ. The State of North Carolina appropriated $1 million to complete the approximate cost of $500,000 for each of the four chapels.

    Some of the Baptist leaders of the project were Neal Peyton, at that time director of special ministries for the Baptist State Convention, and Howard Charles, Fred Williams and Seth Macon, all three members of First Baptist Church, Greensboro. "I look back with pride on the chapels project. It was the most interesting and worthwhile project of which I have been a part," Macon said. "What impressed me most was that such an enormous task was accomplished with thousands of small gifts and only a few big ones."

    Staff and residents at the Regional Centers invite individuals and groups to visit their chapels. Volunteers are welcomed to share their talents of music and drama in worship services or provide social experiences for the parishioners. Sharing a one-to-one relationship as an escort to a person who is non-ambulatory and may not be able otherwise to attend chapel services is a need at each Center.

    Contacts for arranging visits or volunteer services:

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    3/2/2001 12:00:00 AM by Harley Cecil , Retired Chaplain, Murdoch Center | with 0 comments
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