JACKSONTOWN – John Johnson was visiting the Amish country of Ohio a few years ago when he felt a call to turn a simple shed into a chapel, a place where he and his family, his community could worship.
“I saw this one and he immediately spoke to me. I said to the people I was with, ‘I’ll have this in my backyard someday,'” Johnson recalls. “So I went to order one a year or two later.”
Johnson said he and George Cook, who lives with him, had their friend Bo Marietta build the structure from a kit. Johnson said he closed the back door so a stained glass window could be installed and raised the height of the building so people could stand and walk in it.
Once the project began, Johnson said he determined he wanted it finished inside with pews and an altar table. He estimated that it took about six months to complete the structure, and then he and Cook worked continuously on adding parts to the interior.
“I want this to be a place where anyone can stop and come in if they want to pray or meditate, that there is this place here,” he said.
The building, located at 8303 Jacksontown Road and named Grace Chapel, was opened in August 2019 in a small ceremony hosted by the Reverend of the Second Presbyterian Church Todd Tracy. The ceremony was filled with songs and prayers.
Over the past year, Johnson and Cook commissioned benches built in 1880 in Cuba, New York, and a stained glass window built in 1890 in Nebraska. Marietta built an altar table for them, and a woman from Johnson’s veterinary practice painted calligraphy on a hymn panel.
Although a large white steeple sits atop the chapel, Johnson said plans are underway for a new steeple with a working bell and Gothic arches to match the chapel windows.
Next to the church for the holidays, a recently completed nativity scene sits serenely under the pines and a stable.
“I just felt like the timing was perfect – the timing of God. That it all came together and I had all of this to work on during that time when you could easily fall into a depression or something. like, ”Johnson said. “It got me through (the pandemic) really well.”
Friends Kathy Fickes and Tim Gano were with Johnson when he first discovered the church-like shed in Amish country. Fickes said that she and Gano bought the Joseph, Mary and Jesus figures for Johnson and Cook as a Christmas present last year. They’ve also added a few more pieces to the scene this year, and Johnson and Cook have purchased a few as well.
“After Grace went to nursery,” she explained. “With the pandemic and the closure of many churches, Grace Chapel remains open to worship. She continues to bring peace during times of turmoil.”
Looking at the lighted chapel, Johnson said it was a testament to his faith.
“I hope that people who drive on their way to work or back home, that they look and think of God,” he said. “I hope if they glance over it their thoughts are on God.”