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Harriet Chapel celebrates 175 years

James Rada, Jr.
Thurmont Dispatch

(11/6) For nearly a century the lives of the Harriet Chapel and Catoctin Furnaces were intertwined, not so surprising since they stand across the street from one another.

The iron-smelting operation provided for the temporal needs of the area residents while Harriet Chapel took care of the spiritual needs. The Catoctin furnaces smelted the iron that helped build America. They used heat to purify the metal and make it stronger. Harriet Chapel used scripture to strengthen the soul.

However, although the furnace fires died out in the 1920’s, Harriet Chapel has continued through its hard times and grown. On Oct. 26, Harriet Chapel celebrated 175th anniversary with s special service presided over by Right Rev. John Rabb, Bishop Suffragen of the Diocese of Maryland. He was assisted by Rev. Jeff Gehris, pastor of Graceham Moravian Church; Rev. Thomas Momberg, rector of the All Saints Episcopal Church and Rev. Sally Joyner-Giffin, rector of Harriet Chapel.

Rabb spoke not only of the chapel’s history but of its future as it continues to synthesize the values of various denominations, keeping only the valuable ones.

“This synthesis of various traditions is a gift Harriet Chapel has had,” Rabb said.

The chapel was built in 1828. It was named for Catoctin Furnace owner John Brien’s wife, Harriet, who died in childbirth. During its first years, it was served by a Moravian minister from Graceham. It was consecrated on October 25, 1833 and served as a mission church to All Saints Episcopal Church in Frederick. Then in the 1920’s as the Catoctin Furnace’s operations were closing down, Harriet Chapel became its own parish.

Clem Gardner has attended the church all his life. He was born in the Auburn Mansion where the Briens had lived and is related to them. He has seen the parish change over the years from the removal of the pot-belly stove that used to heat the church to the construction of the parish house, which Clem helped build.

Clem’s wife, Harriet, remembers how crowded the church used for its Christmas services. “Lots of people would be here and it would be full,” she said. “They’d even come from Frederick and everything was lit by candlelight.”

Due to its closeness to Camp David, Harriet Chapel has also hosted some U.S. Presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

Perhaps, Rabb said it best at the conclusion of his sermon when he said, “Happy anniversary, Harriet Chapel. May God continue the good work that has really just begun here.”

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