Eagle Scout project: Church gets outdoor chapel

James Arthur has lived in Wilton only two years, but that hasn't stopped him from making an impression on the community.

A member of Troop 125, he has completed his Eagle Scout project — construction of an outdoor chapel for the Wilton Congregational church. It was dedicated on Veterans Day with a service conducted by the Rev. Suzanne Wagner and music by Ken McGarry, director of Youth Ministries, during which the 25 people attending sang "For the Beauty of the Earth."

"I love the church," said James, who is a member with his family. "My family goes on the mission trips every year and I wanted to give something back," he said in explaining why he chose this particular project.

"I heard the church had land behind the Wilton Playshop. I walked behind it, saw the natural slope and thought they could use an outdoor chapel for services, morning rise, whatever they wanted to do with it."

James knew Mr. McGarry, who is also in charge of the mission program, and worked through him.

"We figured out what the church wanted and how to proceed."

The basic plan involved the construction of six wooden benches and a pathway to the Playshop parking lot.

"We decided to go with two rows of benches," he said. "There's still space behind so another Eagle candidate could add on to it."

The benches are very simple, he said, to add to the "outdoorsy" atmosphere. "But they are extremely sturdy and they are not going anywhere," he said. "Each post has two feet of cement around it." Even following Storm Sandy, he said, "they are completely fine."

Since the site is a natural amphitheater, no grading was required, but James and his volunteers cut down several small trees and dug up roots and plenty of rocks. They also cleared a pathway, adding mulch and cutting back limbs.

"We did most of the work during the summer and it was absolutely beautiful," he said of the site. "There are not so many trees that the light can shine on the space, but the trees block all the noise from the road. It is absolutely amazing."

The project took 146 total working hours. He particularly wanted to thank Carlos Velez of Home Depot in Norwalk, who donated almost all the wood and other materials needed to complete the project. Additional materials were donated by Ring's End in Wilton.

He also wanted to thank his friends who helped him on the project, particularly Arthur Haas, "a dad in the Boy Scouts, for spending almost as much time on the project as I did and donating all his tools to help with the project."

And what did church members think of the outdoor chapel?

"They absolutely loved it," James said. "They were ecstatic. They had one a long time ago but they don't know where it used to be. When they heard I could build another, they loved the idea."

In a press release, the church said the chapel "can be used for worship services, small weddings, the annual Sunrise Services on Easter morning, and for those who may wish to spend time meditating in a very special quiet place. The Comstock Brook can be heard from the wooden benches that were constructed by the Scouts. This special place will be well loved by many people over the years."

James first joined the Boy Scouts when he was 11 and living in Indiana. "It's helped me so much with leadership," he said.

James, who attends Wilton High School and belongs to the soccer, ski and golf teams, hopes to have his Eagle rank by the end of January. He turns 18 in March, and will then have to leave the Scouts. It won't be a permanent break.

"I will try to give back to the boys who helped me," he said.