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Big Sky Chapel celebrates 20 years

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The view of Lone Mountain from the Big Sky Chapel was the envy of the state before the building was completed. As the Billings Gazette put it, heaven would be lucky to have the view the chapel boasted. PHOTO BY BELLA BUTLER

By Bella Butler EBS EDITORIAL ASSISTANT

BIG SKY – In 1992, Terry Mumey placed an ad in the Lone Peak Lookout. The headline read:

“Comments and suggestions wanted: Year-round Inter-faith Chapel Big Sky.”

Prior to the ad, a small group of Big Sky residents had identified a need for an official chapel; meeting in random rooms around town wasn’t sufficing the growing community anymore, and something had to be done.

“We were like a bunch of gypsies, going here and there for church,” said Marty Pavelich, a founding board member of the Big Sky Chapel.

The year that followed the Lookout ad, a community committee was formed to carry the dream to fruition. They rallied support from people all across town, and eventually the momentum reached a critical mass. In 1995, Everett Kircher, founder of what is today Boyne Resorts, donated the current site of the chapel to the effort. The founding board, comprised of seven, including Pavelich, focused on fundraising and planning over the next three years. Tim Blixseth, co-founder of the Yellowstone Club, donated land to be sold to fund the chapel project and challenged Ted Turner to match his contribution. While Turner never took the bait, Blixseth’s offering was monumental in the initial stages. 

On Mother’s Day of 1998, despite not yet having fulfilled funds, the board broke ground on the donated land. Pavelich said he knew when construction started, people would start to fill in the gaps—indeed they did. On a plaque in the chapel today, among a list of monetary donors is a list of in-kind donors who couldn’t contribute dollars, instead offering services such as excavation and landscaping the distinguished rock garden.

A 1998 cover of The Weekly in Big Sky shows the steeple being placed atop the new Big Sky Chapel. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BIG SKY CHAPEL

The following Mother’s Day, the very first board of directors hosted a dedication ceremony, and the elegant doors of the Big Sky Chapel were opened.

“It was meant to be an intimate chapel for the community,” said Dick Landis, former chapel president. Landis, Pavelich and fellow founding board member Brad Lartigue believe this mission has been and continues to be satisfied, even after 20 years. The chapel is home to three denominations, two of which employ full-time pastors, and has hosted a range of community events such as piano recitals and holiday celebrations.

The intention to be inclusive is tangible. Upstairs, the ornate stained-glass windows refract tinted beams of light along the corridor that leads up to a wide window that frames Lone Mountain. In designing the church, it was decided to leave out symbols and depictions of a specific religion in order to achieve a space fit for all. One window even features a fly-fishing fly, something to which most Montanans can relate.

The church and its view were the envy of communities across the state. Prior to the building’s completion, the Billing’s Gazette ran a story titled, “New Big Sky Chapel built with God’s country in view” and with a lead that read, “Heaven would be lucky to have views as nice as those that will be enjoyed by congregations at the Big Sky Chapel.”

In building the chapel, Lartigue said everything was brand-new. In an effort to introduce character, founding board member JoDean Bing acquired used pews in Minnesota, now near 115 years old. The board chose to omit cushions from the seating so that the creaks could be heard as people stood and sat on the antique wood. 

“Looking back on these 20 years, I feel like we absolutely accomplished our goal of what we wanted this to be,” said Lartigue, who was echoed by Pavelich and Landis.

On Aug. 25, the Big Sky Chapel will host an open house and barbeque from 1-4 p.m. to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the chapel.

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