BRAGGS—Southern Baptist volunteers joined forces with World Mission Builders volunteers and others Oct. 28 to begin construction of the new, 10,500-square-foot interdenominational Thunderbird chapel near here.
The 16-day project was aimed at completing the exterior of the structure, which will seat 200 people.
Coming later are landscaping and completion of the interior before April, when the Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Infantry returns from their Afghanistan deployment, a goal established by Gov. Mary Fallin at the September groundbreaking.
Fallin said she wants the chapel to give soldiers “a place of peace and a foundation where they can find spiritual solace.”
Even with several hundred workers committed, the project welcomes volunteers with building experience, said Sam Porter, volunteer missions specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Porter said work days will run from 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
“If anyone cares to volunteer, we ask that they bring their own work belts, tool belts and hard hats, as well as their own hand tools,” Porter said.
A volunteer sign-up form is available at the chapel’s website, www.campgruberchapel.org.
About 60 Oklahoma Baptists were on hand as the work began Oct. 28, Porter said, including volunteers from Muskogee, First, members of Campers on Mission, Baptist Builders, the Union Association builders and Northeast Zone disaster relief feeding volunteers, who had set up BGCO’s No. 1 feeding unit on site, providing meals for the volunteer workers.
“They were serving between 150-200 volunteers at every meal,” Porter said Oct. 31.
Ground was broken for the Thunderbird Chapel on Sept. 7 by several dignitaries, including Fallin, who announced a fund-raising drive for the structure on Aug. 9. The structure is estimated to cost more than $1 million.
Various companies in the state are donating materials and services, but about $500,000 is still needed to buy furnishings and supplies for the building, Fallin said. Money is needed for such things as pews, sound equipment, worship linens, sacristy items, baptismal robes, wedding candle stands, office furnishings, stained glass and musical instruments.
According to Col. Mike Taylor, chaplain for the Oklahoma Army national Guard, Camp Gruber is one of the few National Guard military training facilities in the nation that doesn’t have a chapel.
Taylor, who formerly was a church planting strategist with the BGCO, said almost 150,000 soldiers are trained at Gruber annually.
The building will be called Thunderbird Chapel after the former 45th Division’s insignia of a thunderbird, which is an American Indian symbol meaning sacred bearer of unlimited happiness.
Camp Gruber was established in 1942 as a military mobilization training post in the Cookson Hills area of Muskogee and Cherokee counties in eastern Oklahoma. For the duration of World War II, Camp Gruber provided training to the infantry, artillery and tank destroyer units that went on to fight in Europe. Until 1946, Gruber was also home to a POW camp housing 3,000 German prisoners and employing 4,000 civilian workers.
When Camp Gruber was originally built in the spring of 1942, it featured 1,731 framed buildings that housed barracks, administration buildings, hospitals, a laundry, mess halls, theaters and other services. Of those buildings, 14 were chapels available to soldiers and personnel of all faiths.
Following Camp Gruber’s deactivation in June 1947, most of the existing structures were destroyed or moved to other locations. The camp was reactivated in 1977, and although many new buildings have been constructed in the years since, Camp Gruber has remained without a chapel.
The vision for the Thunderbird Chapel at Camp Gruber is centered around the concept of serenity. The building will be designed to resemble an historic chapel structure.
Located in a wooded area that will provide easy accessibility for soldiers, Thunderbird Chapel will feature a sanctuary and facilities to accommodate services for 150-175 soldiers, as well as offices for clergy and counseling and areas to conduct seminars, religious studies and other gatherings that benefit the lives of soldiers and their families.
Services to be offered include prayer services, counseling, weddings, funerals, baptisms, worship services, spiritual fitness training/education and faith specific fellowship gatherings.
For more information on the efforts to build the chapel at Camp Gruber, including how to donate, go to www.thunderbirdchapel.org.