A spacious, accessible and welcoming new narthex is extending hospitality to parishioners and visitors to Corpus Christi Church in Chambersburg.
Following a five-year process of planning and fundraising and a year of construction at the Franklin County parish, Bishop Ronald Gainer dedicated the addition to the church on Sunday, June 26.
The expansive narthex was designed to provide a welcoming space for the 122-year-old church. It offers an overflow seating area for Mass and space for viewings prior to funerals. It also includes restrooms, and is built on one level, allowing for easy accessibility.
The current church was built in 1907. Over time, as a school, parish center and parking areas were added, parishioners stopped using the front doors of the church as their main entrance and instead entered through side doors that lead to the inside front of the church proper.
The location of the new narthex, connected to the side of the church due to a lack of frontage space along busy Philadelphia Avenue, the building provides ease of entrance for parishioners coming into the church from the parish parking lot.
“The narthex really directs people to come in together and also depart together,” said Father Allan Wolfe, pastor. “Before parishioners leave Mass, I’m now able to greet almost everyone …and that really engages people.”
“The narthex also gives a space for connecting and socializing, and that allows the church proper to remain a place of prayer,” he said. “We have a very devout and reverent community. Before having this narthex, when Mass was over and people would connect with one another, the church very quickly became a place of conversation. Now, with the narthex, the church remains a place of prayer for those who want to pray after Mass and the narthex facilitates wonderful socialization.”
At the dedication of the narthex on a rainy June 26, Bishop Gainer told the congregation it was a blessing “to see how good God is to have us all gathered in this beautiful new addition to your church.”
“Let the rain that fell down upon us remind us all of God’s abundance grace that falls upon us every day,” he said.
He told the faithful, “We need to revive the absolute amazement we have when we stand before the Holy Eucharist…. Let us thank God that we are nourished as often as we wish to be by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.”
Architect Lauren Bennett of Noelker and Hull Associates in Chambersburg incorporated elements and features of the historic church into the narthex, and presented the bishop with the keys to the facility. Brechbill and Helman Construction Company was the general contractor for the project.
The construction of the narthex is the third phase of a four-phase capital campaign, begun in 2015 under the leadership of former pastor Father Luis Rodriguez to address challenges and concerns presented by the layout of the parish campus. The first phase involved a feasibility study, schematic designs, and the purchase of adjacent buildings, including the convent that was located where the narthex now stands. Phase 2 included demolition of the adjacent buildings and parking lot expansion. The narthex was the third phase of the project, built at a cost of $2.3 million.
“We are blessed to have a legacy benefactor who really felt a call to bless the community with her generosity, and because of that were able to get this accomplished within months instead of years after undertaking the capital campaign,” Father Wolfe said. “I’m also grateful for the generosity from all the parishioners who participated in the campaign.”
“I also express my gratitude to Father Rodriguez for his outstanding vision,” Father Wolfe said. “I arrived with things well at hand, and within seven months of my arrival as pastor in October of 2020, we were breaking ground in May of 2021.”
Celebrating another chapter in the history of Corpus Christi parish, parishioners are welcoming all through the doors to Christ.
“The theme we used for the dedication was ‘Open Wide the Doors to Christ.’ This is the impetus behind us moving forward,” Father Wolfe remarked. “The narthex is not simply a structure; it is something to motivate us to remember that the work of the Church is to welcome people to a relationship with the Lord. It shows us that the mission of the church is to evangelize, and we need to go out those doors to engage people so they will come into those doors.”
Learn more about Corpus Christi Parish at www.cburgcatholic.org.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness