Chapel cars spread good news of gospel
Before highways crisscrossed this country and automobiles became the preferred mode of travel, railroads ruled the realm. Trains then and today carried romantic names like the Empire Builder and Southwest Chief and folks could find all the amenities of home on board.
The American Baptist Assembly in Green Lake is the final stop for what may be the most unusual of all train cars: Chapel Car Grace. Between 1891 and 1915, seven Chapel Cars for Baptist, Catholic and Episcopal denominations were built and outfitted as combination churches and parsonages.
They were the inspired idea of Dr. Wayland Hoyt, then pastor of the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis, who noticed how many towns the train went through that did not have a church. Hoyt thought these Chapel Cars could then be "sidetracked" in such small towns and local people invited to services.
Hoyt's brother organized a "Chapel Car Syndicate" to underwrite the $4,000 cost of the initial car. That car's purpose was to "carry the Gospel, through the distribution of Bibles and literature and the establishment of Sunday schools, to the frontier of the American West," according to the brochure "On the Rails with the Gospel," available at the Chapel Car Grace at Green Lake.
The railroads initially underwrote the cost of moving the cars from town to town and on and off the sidings. Declining need for the cars for their original purpose and the end of financial support by the railroads led to the demise of the Chapel Car Ministries in 1948.
Books and videos on this subject are available through Norwegian Bay Books and Gifts at the Green Lake Conference Center. Call 800-558-8898 for more information.
Published: 8:35 AM 10/20/03