How Many Howitzers Does Your Church Have?

Polishing the howitzers

My place of worship has six antique brass mountain pack howitzers embedded in the walls. The howitzers are genuine military equipment; they are not merely pieces of art.

Not too many congregations have to polish their artillery each year to prepare for Christmas.

What is a mountain pack howitzer, you ask? It is a piece of 19th century field artillery that can be disassembled and transported on the back of a mule. The mule does not pull the piece; it carries it. These howitzers are 12-pounders. That means that the standard shot weighs 12 pounds, not the piece itself, which of course weighs considerably more.

So why does the chapel have howitzers embedded in its walls?

Memorial Chapel was built in 1878 by prison labor from Leavenworth. The resident expert on the chapel’s history is Dick Wright, a retired Army officer and formerly a fellow doctrine writer at Fort Leavenworth. Dick is a member of the Episcopal Congregation that meets in Memorial Chapel and has written a book on the history of the facility. He believes that the howitzers are part of the original construction, but his answer as to their origin: “I don’t know.”

Memorial Chapel is now exactly that – a memorial to Soldiers and units who have served over the past 150+ years. The story of our nation is written in the names and places remembered in Memorial Chapel. My original conjecture was that the howitzers were a “salute” to those memorialized. The firing of artillery is a form of military honors. The only problem with my theory is that Memorial Chapel didn’t start out as a memorial to anyone. It was just the post chapel. Most likely, the architects just wanted to give a military feel to the building.

So, do you think that it’s weird to have artillery in a house of worship? If harmless antiques in a place of worship give you pause, I wonder how you would feel about conducting worship where a battery of six modern howitzers is delivering live rounds to its foes on the battlefield. Army chaplains don’t conduct worship only in post chapels. We lead worship where real Soldiers are fighting real battles.

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