Church on the slopes

Church on the slopes
The Franziskus Chapel, on the slopes of Mount Tod, serves Christians who come from all over the world to ski in British Columbia's Central Interior. Photo: Dwight Oatway

It doesn’t have a regular working congregation, it doesn’t have a priest and it doesn’t even belong to a specific denomination. Instead, the small chapel perched on the slopes of Mount Tod, 50 km north of Kamloops, B.C., provides a vital service to an unusual demographic: the diverse, international, ever-changing group of Christians staying at the Sun Peaks ski resort during the winter sports season.

“It’s kind of a unique thing,” explains Dwight Oatway, a lay canon for the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior. “I don’t know of anywhere else that does this. We get a lot of Americans up…for ski holidays, and they say they don’t know of any place down in the States where there’s a chapel up on the hill where they could go to church.”

Oatway is one of a rotating group of five lay ministers who perform prayers services at the chapel throughout the winter. He says it is always a surprise seeing the diversity of the people who show up.

“You get them from all over the world,” he says. “You get to meet all these different people and discuss their faith. Of course, we start by saying that we’re from the Anglican cathedral in downtown Kamloops, but we just do a kind of generic prayer service. [We] get all different religions.”

The Franziskus Chapel, which was completed in 1999 and holds 15-20 people, was the dream of Peter Stumboeck, the owner of Sun Peaks Lodge. Stumboeck died in 2000, and in 2004, the lodge was taken over by Mario and Silvia Erler, of Germany.

“It started out with the idea that priests or pastors would be there every Sunday, and it ran like that for about two or three years,” Oatway says. Unfortunately, this arrangement became unsustainable, and services were taken over as a project of St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Kamloops under the leadership of Brian Smith, an Anglican lay reader. When Smith moved to Winnipeg five years ago, Oatway stepped in to continue the work.

The services are kept quite simple. “We have a prayer service that lasts about 20 minutes to half an hour,” Oatway says. “It’s strictly run by laypeople, and we do a small homily in conjunction with the service…our members are not professional writers or anything, but we just give from our heart what we feel for the day, and I think everybody really appreciates what we do there.”

The lay ministers have used several different prayer services, including one from Iona, but Oatway says that the current one was written specifically for use in the chapel by the former dean of the cathedral, Louise Peters (now executive director at the Sorrento Retreat and Conference Centre).

“It’s got a lot about the mountain, the hills and the streams, and it ties in the whole idea of being on the mountain,” Oatway says. “It’s really neat, and people really like it.”

André Forget
André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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