“many hands make light work,” but if walls could talk, we would know that when it comes to the Christian Community in Devon, the exact opposite is the real truth, and so the story must be told of the beginnings of the Christian Community chapel in Devon, PA.
As I sit in my den trying to write this story-letter, if I close my eyes I can transport myself to the chapel. What do I see? What do I experience?
When I grasp the wooden handle of the solid door and pull it toward me, I am immediately uplifted as I step inside. There is a profound sense of peace and I feel that I can finally take a deep breath. My eye takes in the wide expanse of the honey-colored Norwegian spruce that spans above me as the sky does the earth. I walk quietly, reverently across the oak floor aware of any noise I might make that might disturb the seen and unseen guests. The room is filled with the delicate presence of light, and the faint odor of incense from the years of celebrations held within permeates every surface, celebrations that began many years ago at Eastertide in 1977.
When Ed Stone came to Kimberton in 1956, the Christian Community was in its infancy in that area, but he was pleased to find that there were two locations at which services were held. One was at the home of Greta Froelick in Kimberton, the other at the home of Dietrick Asten in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. At that time, services were held four or five times a year when the priest from the New York community would travel to the area.
Greta Froelick’s house only seated five and when the community outgrew that space, Ed and Evelyn Stone graciously offered the use of their living room in their house on Galicia Drive. Sometimes people went to Philadelphia, and sometimes people from Philadelphia went to Galicia Drive for services.
Time passed and Ed and Evelyn bought a farm house on Ellis Woods Rd. in Pottstown with an even larger living room and services were held there when John Hunter would make the journey from NY City.
Still the community grew. Some came from as far away as Lancaster and people had to stand in the kitchen.
Time passed and Ed’s father, Charles Stone, relocated and built a house on Ed’s property. He felt really bad that people couldn’t even sit down for the Sunday service, so he got busy in the chicken coop.
First he got on the roof and built a roof above the roof at the far end of the coop. When he tore down that original roof the one that remained was thus raised. He installed windows at the appropriate places and constructed a vestry room on the north side close to the new doorway. The walls were painted a very pale lavender, a gas heater was installed, and the floor was repaved.
Every attempt was made to transform the coop into a sacred place. Charles Stone built a three step-up platform and created an altar. He made a vestment arm on the left and built a table on the wall on the right. He made a frame for a picture of Christ to hang behind the altar and he even made seven candlesticks out of solid oak, candlesticks designed by John Hunter, candlesticks still in use today in the chapel in Devon.
And so the CCC, Chicken Coop Chapel was born.
It had twenty-five chairs on the left and twenty-five chairs on the right, with a center aisle.
One day Ed Stone was visiting Mable Pew Myrin. Her family had built a magnificent stone church in Bryn Mawr.
“Ed,” she said, “Do you ever go to church?”
“Why yes,” he replied. “I go to service once a month in my own chicken coop chapel.”
“Oh, don’t tell me you have a chapel in a chicken coop,” she said.
“Yes, Mabel, we do. We’re poor people and it’s the best we can do, and it’s very nice.”
“Oh,” she said. “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe there can be a chapel in a chicken coop.”
“Mabel, if you don’t believe it, you’ve got to prove it to yourself and come to the next service.”
To Ed’s surprise, Mabel said she would, and on Sunday she got her chauffeur to drive her car over. Ed helped her walk up the narrow gravel driveway.
“Mabel,” he said, “The chapel is at the end of this building on the left.”
“Mr. Stone, the building on the end is a chicken coop!”
“Yes, Mabel, the chapel is in the chicken coop.”
“I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it.”
Ed and Mabel went in and took their seats. There were a lot of people there.
Afterward Ed escorted her to her car. All the way to her car she kept saying, “It was beautiful! It was beautiful! It was so lovely! Oh, thank you, Mr. Stone for inviting me to come to the service.”
It was a little embarrassing for Ed Stone, but Mabel came several more times to the service at the CCC.
For sixteen years it provided the sacred space people needed, but the time came that even fifty seats were not enough and there was standing room only.
Time passed, as it always does, and Ed’s parents moved into Philadelphia. Their house became Reverend Robert and Barbara Patterson’s home and service was held every Sunday. It was time for a real chapel standing alone.
A map was spread out and on it was marked the places where people who attended services lived, West Chester, Lancaster, Philadelphia and Kimberton. John Hunter thought it should be located near a rail line between Philadelphia and Paoli. An intensive search was begun.
The property at 212 Old Lancaster Road in Devon was on the market. It seemed a reasonable place for people from any location, and because of the train line, it was convenient to the airport. Agreeing to the site was just the beginning.
212 Old Lancaster Road is in a residential middle class neighborhood. People were quite suspicious of a church they knew nothing about. What was the church’s connection to Germany? Robert Patterson was asked, “Are you an ordained priest?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Where were you ordained?”
“England,” he replied.
Members of the Christian Community would attend township meeting after township meeting seeking approval for the church at that location, and though the proposal was listed on the agenda, it was never discussed, and time after time it would be carried over to the next meeting.
Finally, Bill Bates, Ann Bates’ husband, who was a supervisor of a nearby township, met with the township board privately. “My wife is a member of that congregation,” he told them, “and if your township isn’t willing for the sale to go through, my township will be glad to have them.”
The proposal to allow the property at 212 Old Lancaster Road to be used as a chapel was not on the agenda one particular night, but there was some inner impulse that led many of the Christian Community members involved in the purchase to attend, and, lo and behold, in less than five minutes, it was brought up, discussed, and passed.
The purchase was finalized in Dec. 1972, and the Pattersons moved in in Jan. 1973.
Renovations were done to the downstairs. The wall between the dining room and living room was torn down by Rev. Patterson, Val and Michael Sankewitsch, Paul Patterson and Ed Stone. Robert Patterson even assembled an organ from pipes that he salvaged. A hole was cut in the floor in the living room and the pipes were set up in the basement.
The vestry was housed in the basement, and Reverend Patterson had to maneuver those steep steps wearing his vestments and carrying the chalice.
Still the community grew and about four years later a couple members thought that something better should be done for the Christian Community and offered to give money for that cause.
A search for properties in the same general area was begun again, but a decision was made to remain at 212 Old Lancaster Rd. and somehow make the property fit the changing needs and circumstances.
Walter Leicht was hired to do a drawing. Initially township officials said an addition could be put on the front of the house, but the neighbors objected, so it wasn’t allowed.
Discussions naturally turned to the back yard and the existing apartment. Zoning officials said an addition could be built on it as long as the church had written permission from the owner of the neighboring buildings to use his parking lot on Sundays. This was secured and the church even had an insurance policy pertaining to that agreement.
Walter Leicht drew up plans which Robert Patterson approved, with one change. Walter’s design had a straight roof. Robert wanted a higher roof over the altar. Robert also wanted the church to be bigger, but zoning laws only allowed an owner to cover a certain square footage of a property and the driveway would have had to have been torn up to comply with that rule.
Contractors were hired, and only about $13,000 of the $78,000 cost had to be borrowed.
Construction began in the summer of 1976 with Bill Manuel as supervisor and Bob Funk as foreman.
The building had so many unusual angles that Bob Funk had stakes all over the property to make sure everything was going to fit properly. As a matter of fact, when the chapel was completed, he joked that his ability to build buildings with square corners was destroyed, and he actually did have difficulty making the outside planter box.
In Jan. of 1977, Robert Patterson and about fifteen members of the Christian Community whose involvement had been crucial to the project had a small private ceremony. A copper dodecahedron had been made. Each person signed his name on a certificate and it was placed inside. The dodecahedron was then placed into a prepared space in the foundation under the altar.
The Dedication Day for the chapel finally arrived on March 27, 1977. Everyone was filled with joy. “We finally have our chapel.”
One hundred-five people were present for the dedication. They came from all over to share in this momentous event. The chapel was filled to overflowing and Robert Patterson suggested, “If you can all squeeze together, three people can fit on two chairs.”
Barbara Patterson told me, “We thought we had a palace. Later when I looked at the photographs that were taken, there were piles of dirt everywhere because none of the landscaping had been done, but at the time, no one even noticed.”
Work continued, as it always does. Robert and Barbara Patterson always pitched right in, and often did the yard work themselves.
The names of all who helped are too numerous to mention, but it’s certainly worthy of note that the beautiful slate walkway was laid by Robert Patterson and Patricia Sankewitsch, on their knees.
Walter Leicht said the chapel is his finest work. Since its dedication in 1977, it has been the home for countless marriages, baptisms and funerals. Every Christmas season members and guests have experienced the joy of The Shepherds Play and the drama of The Three Kings Play. The Act of Consecration of Man has been performed thousands of times. Each priest has helped the spiritual world come into the soul realm of the people on earth. “When a place is devoted to sacraments, it becomes a spiritual mystery center.” (Richard Dancey)
The chapel stands not only as an extraordinarily beautiful structure, but as a symbol of Christ’s work in the world and a beacon of light for the community in which it lives.