Episcopal Church in Navajoland welcomes return of chapel

Structure was built in 1922 and served as hospital

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
The chapel at the Episcopal Church in Navajoland in Farmington recently reopened after an extensive renovation project.

FARMINGTON — As the scent of burning cedar filled Hozho Chapel, members and friends of the Episcopal Church in Navajoland gathered on Wednesday to welcome the space's reopening.

The chapel is located inside an old hospital built by the church in 1922. It served as one of the first hospitals for the area.

The Episcopal Church in Navajoland was organized as an area mission for the entire Navajo reservation by the Episcopal Church in 1976, according to the church's website.

The Most Rev. Michael Curry, leader of the Episcopal Church, carries a crucifix to the altar on Wednesday at the Episcopal Church in Navajoland in Farmington.

Navajoland has been working to restore the two-story building and transform it into a women's wellness center.

The downstairs area will house Cheii's Web Development, an entity under Navajoland that focuses on website development. After its new home is complete, Cheii's will offer courses to teach Navajos how to develop and implement business ideas, as well as teach website design.

The work to renovate the old hospital has proceeded with some setbacks, including a fire on Jan. 5, 2017, that damaged the chapel, but Navajoland continues moving toward its completion.

The Rt. Rev. David Bailey speaks during a service Wednesday at the Episcopal Church in Navajoland in Farmington.

The Rt. Rev. David Bailey said after the renovation is done, the building will serve as a healing center for Navajo women and children.

"We're excited about the opportunity to have you all join us for this new beginning of new life in this place," Bailey said during the chapel dedication.

Inside the chapel is a stained-glass window that depicts a shepherd surrounded by sheep. A small plaque states the window is in memory of the Rt. Rev. William D. Walker, who was the Episcopal Church's first missionary bishop for the Missionary District of North Dakota.

The Rev. Inez Velardo blesses the chapel with incense Wednesday at the Episcopal Church of Navajoland in Farmington.

The Most Rev. Michael Curry read a dedication to the alter during the ceremony. Curry, who is the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, participated in the blessing as part of his five-day visit to the Navajo Nation.

"I can’t tell you how moved I am," Curry said after the dedication.

After two members censed the altar with smoke from burning cedar, it was redressed with fair linen, candles, a Diné Bible, an old Oxford English Bible, a Navajo wedding basket and a large brass cross, the only piece left from the original chapel.

Katherine Sells, left, and her grandson Jacob Sells attend a mass on Wednesday at the Episcopal Church in Navajoland in Farmington.

Farmington resident Katherine Sells was born in 1945 at the old hospital, where her mother worked as a nurse's aide. Sells remembers staying at the hospital for medical treatment when she was 4 or 5 years old.

"I remember playing on the steps," she said, adding patients were housed together in a large ward in those days.

Sells was among those who attended the blessing for the chapel.

"It made me emotional because my dad would say that my mom would go in that chapel. I guess she prayed or something," Sells said.

The Most Rev. Michael Curry, center, leader of the Episcopal Church, leads a service Wednesday at the Episcopal Church in Navajoland in Farmington.

When Bailey became bishop of Navajoland in 2010, the old hospital was being used as office space. He said three fires had occurred in the building because of electrical issues, and it was closed after the fire department determined it was unsafe to occupy.

"Navajo people were afraid that I was going to tear it down, but I never wanted to do that. They wanted to try to bring it back so that it was a place of healing again," Bailey said.

Navajoland received a grant from the Episcopal Church in 2016, and that provided about two-thirds of the money for the renovation. But additional work has increased the amount, the Rev. Chan Anaya said.

Elizabeth Dawes explores the hallways Wednesday at the Episcopal Church in Navajoland in Farmington.

Fundraising efforts include the establishment of a Gofundme account under Build a Navajo Healing House.

"This area is healing the past, the generational trauma," Anaya said about the women's wellness center.

She added, "Downstairs, we're trying to get young people ready for their own businesses and website developments."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or nsmith@daily-times.com.