Nestled at the foot of the Black Hills, on the western edge of Rapid City, SD, the Chapel in the Hills is a quiet retreat open to all visitors. As a special ministry of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the chapel reaches out to vacationers and local residents alike, who look for a place to experience God’s peace in their busy lives.
The chapel itself is an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway. Our chapel was built in 1969 as the home for the Lutheran Vespers radio ministry. Today, visitors from all around the world find the chapel to be a place of beauty and inspiration.
How did it come about that there is a stave church in the Black Hills of South Dakota, thousands of miles from the lands where this type of architecture and construction originated? It is the result of a dream of one man and the generous support of another…
In the 1960’s, the originator and preacher of the Lutheran Vespers radio hour, Dr. Harry R. Gregerson, was looking to expand the scope of his popular radio ministry. As his dream took shape, Dr. Gregerson realized there was the perfect location for his facility right in his own state of South Dakota: the Black Hills. The Black Hills are a vaction destination for people from all over the world. The Chapel was to draw people to it and the Hills was the perfect setting to accomplish this goal.
The next question was, “What kind of a building shall the chapel be?” Since many of the original settlers of the Dakotas and surrounding states were Norwegian Lutherans, the idea was suggested that the chapel be built in the style of an original stave church (in Norwegian, “stavkirke”). This would honor the radio program’s many listeners’ heritage and establish the chapel with strong cultural roots. The chapel is an exact replica of the famous Borgund stavkirke, of Laerdal, Norway. The Borgund stavkirke was built around the year 1150 and is considered the most completely preserved stave church still standing in Norway.
The Norwegian Department of Antiquities graciously provided a set of blueprints of the Borgund church to be used in the construction of the Chapel in the Hills. All the general construction was done by a local construction company and other contractors. The woodcarvings are the result of a combined effort by Mr. Erik Fridstrom, one of Norway’s best woodcarvers, and a local Rapid City resident, Mr. Helge Christiansen. Also, to serve as a visitor center and offices for Lutheran Vespers, an authentic grass-roofed “stabbur,” or store house, was built in Norway, shipped to Rapid City, and reassembled on the grounds. In addition to the chapel and stabbur, two residences were constructed on the grounds, a parsonage and caretaker’s cabin.
The question of funding was answered by a generous gift by Mr. Arndt E. Dahl, of Rapid City. The land, all the original structures, and landscaping were made possible through Mr. Dahl’s generosity. All he asked in return was to dedicate the chapel to the glory of God, in memory of his parents. His father, the Rev. Anton A. Dahl, was himself a pioneering Lutheran pastor in the Upper Midwest.
The Chapel in the Hills was dedicated on July 6, 1969, and it served as the home of Lutheran Vespers until 1975 when the radio program was moved to Minneapolis home of the American Lutheran Church at the time. At that time a non-profit corporation took over operation of the Chapel in the Hills and operates it to this day.
A number of pastors were called to the Chapel, and a resident pastor served the Chapel until 2004. At that time it was decided to hire a manager and use local pastors serving Lutheran churches in the Rapid City area to preside over the evening worship services and weddings. Through all these changes the visitors have still remained, so the chapel remains, ministering to all those who seek a quiet place of contemplation, meditation, and prayer. Today the Chapel sees 20,000 to 25,000 visitors a year and hosts numerous weddings and vow renewals, along with other special services. You are welcome too!