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Persistence Is Not Futile: Re-Opening the Historic Moffett Chapel

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Roderick Bersamina
  • 129th Public Affairs
In June 2012, the historic Moffett Chapel was officially closed. The doors were locked, the windows were boarded up, and the services stopped.

When Naval Air Station Moffett Field officially turned over its ownership to NASA Ames Research Center on July 1, 1994 - via the Base Realignment and Closure Act - the regularly abundant activities within the base began to dwindle. One by one, the restaurants, the bowling alley, the theater, and even the Naval Exchange were vacated.

Moffett Chapel held on for almost a decade after BRAC was enacted. But eventually, it too had to close its doors.
"They Just Don't Make Them Like This Anymore"

Built in the 1930s and 1940s, NAS Moffett Field was home to a rigid-airship program housed in the iconic Hangar 1 structure, one of the largest freestanding structures in the world. Like most military bases across America, NAS Moffett Field was its own small city, serving sailors and civilians alike with the basic services any town would have to keep its citizens fed and taken care of. 

On September 23, 1945, dedication ceremonies were conducted to formally open the Moffett Chapel. For the next 67 years, the base chapel would play host to countless weddings, funerals, memorial services, and other ceremonies, providing a location for significant events to many people in and around NAS Moffett Field.

Moffett Chapel was patterned after the Spanish Colonial Mission churches found throughout California, but features some very unique attributes. A story-in-glass of the faith, sacrifices, and loyalty of the men and women of the Navy and Marine Corps was created specifically for the Moffett Chapel's windows, according to the Moffett Historical Society. NAS Moffett Field's various unit insignias were incorporated into each window as a memorial to individuals or squadrons. Two of the windows have symbols representing Jewish service members: the Star of David and the Menorah. And with a revolving altar, the base chapel was equipped to provide Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and non-denomination services by simply revolving the turntable to the appropriate platform.

"This is truly a community interfaith chapel; a reflection of the military culture as well as the diverse and  multicultural aspects of the surrounding neighborhoods and the south San Francisco Bay Area, also known as Silicon Valley," said Lt. Col. Laura Adelia, 129th Rescue Wing Chaplain. "I tell you, they just don't make them like this anymore."

A Call to Action

In contrast to the decline of the Navy's presence at Moffett because of BRAC, the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, was seeing its operations tempo and the number of its personnel increase.

Additionally, the Army Reserve's 63d Regional Support Command erected a new headquarters building right outside of Moffett's main gate.  And with the increasing activity at Moffett Federal Airfield came calls from the military personnel and their families to have their military city come back.

Chaplaincy is a service provided on a basis of need, according to Adelia.  And over the course of more than two years, the 129th Rescue Wing Chaplain Office would continue to contact Army officials about the need for a community interfaith chapel to serve Moffett.

"I made it one of my main projects to get Moffett Chapel re-opened," said Adelia. "I also wanted to have our chaplain team provide Sunday services in the Chapel for the people of the 129th Rescue Wing and the wider community the weekends we were on duty."

With wing leadership support, the 129th Chaplains met with NASA Ames as their first step to re-opening Moffett Chapel. However, the chaplains found out a sobering fact during their meeting: Moffett Chapel and the plot of land it sat on was actually owned and operated by the U.S. Army and the Army Reserve, not NASA.

The 129th Chaplains immediately contacted the Army, but this did not produce their desired results.

"We received a message from the Army's upper echelons stating that the Moffett Chapel will not be re-opened or used even for a part-time basis," said Master Sgt. Joseph C. Munar, 129th Rescue Wing Superintendent of Chaplain Services. "This was disheartening at best. But we believed in what we were doing for the base and the community. So, we kept trying."

Adelia and her staff eventually connected with Army Capt. Amy Noble, Camp Parks Chaplain, and Army Lt. Col. Christopher Gerdes, Camp Parks Garrison Commander. They were receptive to the plans to re-open Moffett Chapel and connected with Col. Gregory F. Jones, 129th Rescue Wing Commander, to discuss solutions.

"Things really started happening," said Adelia. "Persistence is not futile.  After many emails, phone calls, meetings, with the Army, the chaplains at Camp Parks and Fort Hunter Liggett, the commanders and so forth, it was finally decided to re-open [Moffett Chapel]."

The Great Comeback

The re-opening of the Moffett Chapel was held on December 7, 2014, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Moffett Chapel held services for the first time in more than two years during the Sunday of 129th's December Unit Training Assembly weekend. Parishioners - a mix of 129th airmen, Army reservists and a number of civilians who live and work around Moffett - were greeted by Adelia and her staff before services began.

"[We] are re-commissioning an old soldier that was just fading away," said Capt. David Schenone, 129th Rescue Wing Chaplain in his sermon during the chapel's re-opening. "Today Moffett Chapel is making a comeback! And you are here to witness it."

By working together, the chaplains of the U.S. Army and Army Reserve, and the 129th Rescue Wing, officially re-opened the Base Chapel at Moffett Federal Airfield.

"The people of Moffett - military, civilian and veterans - now have a beautiful chapel in which to worship," said Adelia. "And that includes the local wider community just outside the fences and gates of Moffett; many of the Silicon Valley corporations we all have become so familiar with like Google, Yahoo, Hewlett Packard, eBay and Apple." 

Currently, Moffett Chapel holds a service every Sunday at 11 a.m. Chaplains from Camp Parks, Fort Hunter Liggett, and volunteer chaplains from the Palo Alto VA Medical Center or local veteran's organizations, lead those services.  On weekends during the 129th Rescue Wing's Unit Training Assemblies, the 129th Chaplain Office provides two Sunday services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

"Everybody loves a good comeback story," Schenone said.