The new chapel center at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., is seen Feb. 25. (Mike Morones / Air Force Times)
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, DEL. — It took five years to get the funding, another 18 months to start building. The rambling, almost 20,000-square-foot chapel center — a portion of which will serve as a reception center for families in mass casualty events — finally held its first service on Christmas.
The center was formally dedicated during a Feb. 25 ceremony at the base, which has served as the nation's port mortuary since the 1950s. Dover has welcomed home thousands of fallen service members over the last half-century. But not until 2009 did the doors open to their families.
A year later, the Defense Department announced the completion of a 6,000-square-foot Center for Families of the Fallen. A meditation pavilion is among its amenities, said Chaplain Lt. Col. Dennis Saucier. Those families can also make use of the new chapel, which has 20 pews stocked with hymnals and the Holy Bible, an altar, a wood-paneled reredos and tall, stained glass windows featuring four white doves in flight.
The chapel center also has an "all faiths" room, a neutral room that includes a water basin inside for Muslim faith patrons to wash before prayer. The center serves a range of faiths, including Judaic, Buddhist and Earth Base religious traditions.
The $8.7 million facility replaces a chapel built in 1956 — for $300,000, Saucier said.
Chaplains, who for a time worked out of an old school, make their offices in the new center. In addition to the main sanctuary — where multiple worship services are held every week — there are six classrooms for functions such as choir practice or a children's playroom, an audio-visual room and an annex.
The annex is decorated in subdued colors and large leather couches. This is where families will wait in the event of a mass casualty.
Maj. Gen. Howard Stendahl, chief of chaplains, said in his remarks at the dedication that he prayed there would no more dignified transfers.
It is what happens inside the walls of the center that matter, Stendahl said.
"That which we celebrate here will never go away … this building one day may leave us, but this, this is eternal."