The Chapel at Massachusetts General Hospital
'Whoever Will, May Enter Here'
The Chapel at MGH is located on the first floor of the Ellison Building, diagonally across from the MGH Gift and Flower Shop.
After you have entered this Chapel and spent a few moments in silence, you will become aware of a sense of peace and calm that seems to be part of its very walls. And the bestowing of that peace is the purpose of this meditation Chapel, a place of rest and quietness in the middle of a large, busy hospital.
The Right Reverend William Lawrence, retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, realized the need for a chapel at Massachusetts General Hospital in the late 1930's as the White Building was under construction. Convinced of the importance of faith and spirit in healing, he sent over fifteen hundred hand-written letters to friends of the Hospital in March, 1939, asking for their support "in this bit of pioneer hospital work." Over eight hundred people of all faiths responded. The result of their generosity and Bishop Lawrence's guidance was the Gothic Revival Chapel located off the first floor of the now closed Baker Building. The stones of that Chapel were rougher hewn and a darker granite than those of the present Chapel, and its overall dimensions were several feet larger. Other than those differences, the design and appointment of the two Chapels, including the stained glass windows, are the same.
Bishop Lawrence envisioned that the Chapel would be a "living thing," and that its decoration and appointments would change as the uses of the Chapel changed. Those changes have been relatively few over the years. The original record player that furnished hymns and spiritual music was replaced by an electronic organ. The hanging (called a dossal) behind the stone altar table was donated. The lighting was improved. Seasonal floral displays were maintained. But, as a house of prayer for all people, no fixed or permanent religious symbols have been installed. Thus the Protestant lectern, Roman Catholic altar, and Jewish ark are all portable, used for denominational services and then stored apart from the nave, or central space, of the Chapel.
Bishop Lawrence desired that the Chapel be a place of prayer for people of all faiths and of no faith. Indeed, it was his conception that the Chapel be a place of meditation set apart from the hustle and bustle of the Hospital. "The simple fact that it, with its beauty, its traditions, its suggestion of mystery and spiritual presence, is in the center of a great Hospital for the healing of men's bodies, creates an atmosphere throughout the wards, and all who pass by the doors feel it and carry its silent message."
The Chapel Doors were first opened to the Hospital community on April 25, 1941. From that date to the present, the Chapel has been open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As evidence of the continuity between the two Chapels, the old Chapel was used continuously even as its furnishings (including the lights!) were removed item by item and installed in the new Chapel.
While the old has been preserved in the new, modern improvements have increased the Chapel's comfort and flexibility. The Connick stained glass windows were thoroughly cleaned and reset in new, illuminated frames. New lighting, ventilation, air conditioning and amplification systems have been installed. Closed circuit television cameras now broadcast services over the Hospital's system directly to patient rooms. A new sound system was installed in the Chapel in 2001. Enlarged storage space contains extra chairs for larger gatherings. A new sacristy (a closet for vestments and worship materials) enhances preparations for daily worship services as well as occasional weddings, baptisms, memorial services, and concerts.
The Chapel was formally rededicated here in the Ellison building on October 23, 1991, fifty years after its first opening. It now enters its second half century of ministry to the Hospital community, "a help to healing of body and spirit."