By Andrea Brown
SULTAN — On a lonely stretch of highway a few miles east of the Reptile Zoo in Monroe, all of a sudden, it’s there.
No, not a giant two-headed turtle that escaped from the reptile ranch.
A tiny house version of a chapel.
What’s up with that?
Wayside Chapel has been a roadside distraction since 1962. First a blur of a miniature white A-frame, then a trace of a steeple in the rear-view mirror.
Stop in anytime. The glorified kids playhouse stays open 24/7 for anyone to get a spiritual, marital or ministerial fix. It’s a free venue for weddings, piety and curiosity.
A sign by the road says: “Pause. Rest. Worship.” It also also cautions there are “No Facilities.”
The chapel is a pit stop for sacred relief only. This isn’t some divine outhouse. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t use it as one.
The tidy red-trimmed structure is set back from the street. The parking lot holds more cars than people who can fit inside the chapel, about the length of a Subaru Forester but with more headroom.
Inside the 7-by-11 foot sanctuary are four small pews that each seat two uncomfortably. A pulpit in front has Bibles to preach from. No need for a choir. Cars zipping by provide a steady hymnal hum.
Six skinny plastic glass windows, some aided by duct tape, let in light and keep out the draft.
There is no power of the earthly kind. Pray that your phone has enough juice to Instagram this enlightenment.
The chapel was built by a Monroe church, now New Hope Fellowship, as an outreach to witness visitors to the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. A holy respite for those who would come this way yonder, as small as the Space Needle was tall.
A church member who owned a dairy farm on the property donated a section. The chapel was dedicated Oct. 12, 1962, the day of the epic Columbus Day windstorm.
The mighty storm was nothing compared to the vandalism inflicted by human hands over the years.
At one time, the chapel had electricity and a heater. Photos show a polished altar with vases of fake flowers on either side. A landscape painting hung by the wall cross. The windows were real glass back then.
The angels who maintained the chapel were no match for the forces hellbent on damaging the place.
“People would come in and kick the place up,” said longtime New Hope Fellowship member Gerrit Zanderwerff.
To keep the chapel open, only the basics have been retained. A wobbly podium is the pulpit. Pews are bolted to the parquet floor. Religious pamphlets are there for the taking.
In 2007, a teen restored the chapel as his Eagle Scout project and was written up in a Herald story. He and other Scouts put down new floor tiles and painted over graffiti.
A few days later, vandals came back and sprayed more graffiti. The Scouts painted it over again.
Members of the mother church in Monroe and others keep up the place.
“There’s a fellow that keeps the lawn mowed,” Zanderwerff said. “Way, way back I painted it and kept the graffiti down and replaced the windows, but I haven’t done that in years. I think someone in the community has been keeping an eye on it.”
The church gets donations earmarked for the little white chapel, which go for upkeep and repairs.
It’s not the only itty-bitty steepled wonder in the state.
Others include Wildwood Chapel in Marblemount in the North Cascades and Elbe Lutheran Church in the foothills west of Mount Rainier, which has monthly services.
Roadside America lists about 25 “Lord’s houselets” nationwide in a section titled “Tiny Churches: Get Out Your Magnifying Glasses.”
Wayside Chapel is a temple of memories for generations of people. A Facebook post by The Herald asking for chapel tales drew about 50 responses.
Several told of marriages at the chapel.
Some divulged encounters inside that were, uh, intimate and probably not what the founding church folk had in mind.
“My dad said I was conceived there,” one person wrote.
He’s probably not the only product of un-immaculate conception.
For plenty of passersby, the landmark chapel has been a reassuring constant.
Carol Kunde, a Snohomish School District retiree, wrote on Facebook: “I’ve never stopped, but during the 1960s, I traveled to the ski area on Stevens Pass frequently and I’ve always looked for the little chapel. It was a reminder of my belief that I was a child of God and that I should be careful while driving and skiing.”
Christa Sobiech, now living in Minnesota, posted: “Our favorite place to go was the ‘little church.’ We would sing church songs, and take turns being the preacher. This is one of my most fond childhood memories on my visits with my Dad.”
Theresa and Mike Bolyard were married at the chapel on Nov. 29, 1980.
“I wanted a church wedding and my husband didn’t and that’s what he agreed on,” Theresa Bolyard said.
“We didn’t have a lot of money. It kind of sounded like a joke at first.”
In the chapel were 13 people, plus the pastor.
“It was cozy,” she said. “It was an inexpensive fancy wedding.”
Nearly 40 years later, the roadside chapel is still a fun family stop for the Granite Falls couple, their four children and six grandkids.
Jeff Huber popped the question there in 1999.
Three friends were his accomplices, decking out the place with an aisle runner with rose petals, Christmas lights, candles, a hidden video camera and a bottle of champagne with glasses.
“All these accoutrements set the stage for when I showed up with my girlfriend (Tanya) on my way to a staged job interview. I pretended being nervous. When we went inside to pray, she realized she had just been set up … I read to her the list of all the attributes I hoped my wife would have one day and told her she matched the full description… My Eddie Bauer fleece coat caught on fire from one of the candles, burnt a hole in it … but I recovered, dropped to a knee and proposed. Winning night for the ol’ Pause Rest Worship chapel!”
The former Everett resident now lives in Spokane. He and Tanya are raising a family there.
Many visitors leave notes on the pad on the podium. The messages are curated for the church bulletin.
Some recent examples:
“Thank you for my car I’m driving today after I’ve been so broke… Thank you for taking me back after I’ve shamed you.”
“My brother/best friend died today. God please protect Joe and love him.”
“Thank you for this lovely chapel. Blessings.”
Zanderwerff collects the notepads and puts out fresh writing paper.
“I think it’s a really important building to have in our community,” he said. “From the notes that people leave behind they get a huge impact from this place. People need that in their lives.”