By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – The Big Sky Chapel sees an average of 250 people each Sunday morning between three services. A lesser-known fact about this house of worship is that numerous community organizations hold events here, mostly free of charge.

But plowing snow in winter and heating the building, along with general improvements and other operational costs, are not free. That’s why a local committee started the Big Sky Chapel Endowment Fund once the church building was completed in 1999.

After area developers and businesses donated land, lumber and other building materials, the chapel committee had money left over from the construction fund to start the endowment. The current endowment fund campaign began in 2010 and is scheduled to run through next year. With $1.25 million in invested funds and future pledges as of July 31, the chapel board has 16 months to reach its goal of $2 million.

“We want to provide for capital improvements and repairs to the chapel and to ensure it’s on sound financial footing to take care of its physical wellbeing in perpetuity,” said Rod Rempt, 69, who’s been living in Big Sky full time since 2007 and is now chair of the Endowment Fund Trustees, which reports to the chapel’s board. “[The endowment] will cover the operating funds for the chapel that are not covered in congregational contributions and user fees.”

Three religious congregations use the chapel, including the non-denominational Big Sky Christian Fellowship, the All Saints Parish, and St. Joseph’s Catholic Mission of Big Sky. A Beth Shalom Jewish congregation has also been using the chapel occasionally, Rempt said. Each group pays approximately $650 per month to use the space, though the endowment provides opportunities for other local groups to utilize the space for free.

“We’re really focused on making it a community [environment],” said Rempt, noting that nearly 150 people per week associated with non-religious, local charitable organizations hold events in the chapel.

Alcoholics Anonymous meets there three times per week, while area Girl Scout chapters, the Big Sky Community Chorus, the Chamber of Commerce, the Resort Tax Board, and Big Sky Community Corp., among others, hold meetings and forums in the building.

The chapel also reaches out to younger members of the community.

“Each year the Ophir School eighth grade students are brought in to make ginger bread houses,” Rempt said. “There’s really quite a wide range [of groups] …and for most of these community events, there’s no charge.”

While the Big Sky Chapel does require a fee for wedding services held there, Rempt says this funding source – even combined with congregational payments – is not enough to cover maintenance costs and to pay Chapel Manager Diane Lundsten.

As the chapel’s only employee, Lundsten works part-time overseeing chapel operations, cleaning, keeping books, scheduling special events and updating the website, among other tasks.

The chapel, she says, does everything for the community groups and congregations that gather there. “They just have to open the door and everything else is taken care of,” said Lundsten, who’s lived in Gallatin Canyon for 35 years, and worked at the chapel for 11.

If the chapel reaches its funding goal of $2 million, Rempt says it will continue to invest the money in equities and mutual funds, using interest to pay for maintenance and upkeep so Big Sky congregations as well as area organizations can utilize the church going forward.

After all, Lundsten says, that was the original intention. “We have a lot of different groups using the building, [but] the chapel was built by the community, for the community.”