Paradise Valley Chapel

One of our earliest outreach efforts was the construction of a small wayside chapel along Highway 89 south of Livingston, Montana (east of Bozeman).  The chapel is about 20 miles north of Yellowstone National Park on a road heavily traveled by tourists and Montanans visiting the park.  The open journal inside the chapel tells the story of the chapel's popularity.  Besides providing a place for prayer and meditaion, the chapel has served as an overnight shelter for many a weary and , probably, penniless traveler.  Several weddings have also been performed in the chapel.

Recently, the chapel was moved to Emmigrant MT; a few miles north of it's original location.  The Bozeman Daily Chronicle featured a story about it:

"Chapel to Leave Landmark Perch"
By JODI HAUSEN Chronicle Staff Writer

George “Satch” Freswick gets choked up when he visits Meditation Point - a tiny white chapel perched on a small hill overlooking the Yellowstone River adjacent to a rest area on U.S. Highway 89.

ERIK PETERSEN/CHRONICLE Satch, left and Rusty VanderVos pose Friday for a photo at the Meditation Point chapel in Paradise Valley which they helped build over 40 years ago. “I get a lump in my throat,” said Freswick, standing just outside the chapel he helped build and move to the spot more than 40 years ago. “It’s got to be out of here by July 1,” he said.

On Friday, Freswick and Henry “Rusty” VanderVos visited the diminutive sanctuary on the road between Gardiner and Livingston. It has been a landmark there — a curiosity and a resting place for weary travelers for 41 years. Both men, who are nearly 80, are the remaining survivors of a group that built the “Wayside Chapel” 20 miles north of the park in 1968.

Over the years, the building has rested on that hilltop on private land through beneficence of several landowners, but the newest owners have plans that do not include the chapel. The iconic miniature church must find a new home.

Parishioners with Bozeman Christian Reformed Church — the group that originally constructed it — have received several offers for temporary and permanent placements, but they haven’t yet made a decision, said church member, Judy Kingma.

“The church would like to thank the former landowners for letting us keep the chapel there for as long as we did,” Kingma said Monday.

The chapel is always open and the church requires nothing from people using it. And although offers have been made, the church would like to keep it in a visible spot.

“It has touched many people,” Kingma said. “Unless it has good public access to it, it doesn’t do us much good.”

Inside the chapel, the sound of highway traffic and that of Paradise Valley’s characteristic howling winds are muffled. The 10-by-14-foot room sports stained-glass side windows and eight wooden theater-type seats that face a white cross on a pulpit. Behind the cross is a large plate-glass window overlooking the river and Emigrant Peak.

“It’s kind of a quiet place,” VanderVos said. “And that’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“We can’t remember” how many people were involved in its construction, Freswick said.

There were “so many people who helped with this,” VanderVos said. “We’re like the last of the Mohicans.”

But it isn’t the construction or even the move the men are most concerned with. It’s the stories and the visitors.

Over the years, the congregation has collected thousands of signatures and comments on 4,800 pages from logbooks kept at the back of the chapel, Kingma reported in a written statement.

From locals to world travelers, a glance at the log illustrates the far-reaching effects of the contemplative chamber.

“I believe I just found my new favorite spot in the world. I will remember it always,” one visitor wrote recently. Another from Sweden called it a “wonderful, serene spot.”

“Our wedding day!” said two different entries.

Even long-time residents have taken solace in the sanctuary.

“Lived in Gardiner 16 years,” one wrote last week. “Always see this spot and think it’s so nice. Never stopped here till today to pray with my faithful golden retriever who was just diagnosed with terminal cancer this morning. Very comforting to have a place like this. I hope it finds a new home before it’s too late.”

And the Bozeman congregation hopes it will be able to continue to provide tired travelers with a spot to reflect.

“If you come by here and you’re stressed out, you can’t hear the wind outside and you can get your thoughts together,” Freswick said. “There’s an awful soft spot in my heart for this place.”

The church group plans to move the 12-foot-tall chapel (including its steeple) in one piece to a new location by July 1. Anyone interested helping may call 388-4972 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.

Jodi Hausen can be reached at jhausen@dailychronicle.com or 582-2630.

(Footnote - The Chapel was moved to Emmigrant shortly after this article appeared with the help of many volunteers from the church and the community.  Our thanks go out to Jodi Housen of the Chronicle and to all those who helped with the move.  The "little white chapel" continues to bless many people as they travel the road of life.)