SULTAN — This little chapel got a big miracle.
What’s up with that?
Since 1962, Wayside Chapel, on U.S. 2 between Monroe’s Reptile Zoo and Sultan, has been a roadside distraction and free venue for weddings, piety and curiosity for all who come and can fit in the 7-by-11-foot A-frame.
The chapel is not staffed. Just show up. The door is always open. All faiths welcome.
The chapel was built by New Hope Fellowship 6 miles away on a member’s donated land as an outreach to witness visitors to the 1962 World’s Fair. New Hope members do the upkeep.
With frequent use, and abuse, the mini chapel needed major TLC.
Michael Durkee, 15, took it on as an Eagle Scout project, following a family tradition. His uncle, Robert Forbes, renovated the chapel for his Eagle Scout project in 2007. Neither belong to the founding church.
“It’s because I want to help my community,” Michael said. “It’s good history. History that should be remembered here.”
He has put in 720 hours since starting the chapel renovation in November 2022. Peers from Mount Baker Council Boy Scouts, church members and volunteers, including his Uncle Robert, have poured, pounded and painted.
We’re talking new foundation, floors, windows, gutters, lights. The works. The chapel was moved sideways 4 feet due to infringing tree roots.
“We redid the skids and the walls that were damaged, redid the entrance, ripped up the tiles, redid the pews,” Michael said.
Metal Tech in Monroe powder coated the steeple and cross.
When the inside was gutted, a Gold Bar resident, not knowing about the project underway, assumed the pews had been stolen, so he started an online fundraiser.
The money raised, about $2,000, was a blessing to renovate the chapel on a grander scale and fund upkeep.
“People donate supplies, money, all sorts of stuff,” Michael said. Some bring food and drinks to the workers.
“It kept growing and growing,” said his grandfather, Jeff Forbes, his right-hand man and his Troop 148 assistant Scoutmaster. Forbes assisted Robert, his son, in the 2007 Eagle Scout project.
There is talk of other Scouts doing projects in the future to add picnic tables and a historical storyboard, Forbes said.
Graffiti is a continuous problem at the chapel, but Michael didn’t expect it so soon.
In July, vandals spray-painted symbols over the six side windows on the newly primed drywall.
“It makes me so sad. People disrespect our history,” Michael said.
He enjoys meeting those who appreciate the chapel.
“People driving by honk to tell us thank you. It shows the community likes this place and respects us for doing this,” Michael said. “It’s so satisfying to watch people come in and use it.”
Hundreds of social media posts over the years tell of the joy brought by the chapel. New Hope has made it a mission to collect the numerous handwritten notes, prayers and reflections left on the podium and put out fresh writing paper.
“We’ve had a lot of visitors stop by and ask when it will be done,” Michael said.
Michael just got back from two weeks at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.
The final phase includes painting the inside and installing the four pews refinished by a church member. New Hope is planning to replace the sign by the road that says “Pause. Rest. Worship” and at the bottom, “No Facilities.”
There were three weddings, so far, during the renovation.
“When the weddings happen in the middle of work we take a step back and go, ‘Let them have their wedding, because this is the most special moment of their lives,’ ” Michael said.
He hasn’t thought about wedding plans for himself, in the chapel or otherwise.
On the July afternoon that I met Michael at the chapel, a wedding party suddenly appeared.
Brittany Tucker, the officiant from Camano Island, commended the Scout’s diligence.
“It’s cool that you have been doing all this,” she told Michael. “So many people talk about what needs to be done but don’t actually do it.”
Kyle Welch, the groom from Arlington, arrived early with a broom and started sweeping the floor.
The chapel checked all his boxes for the wedding.
“It’s cute. It’s close to where we’re taking our honeymoon. It’s Christian,” he said. “And it’s free.”