LUVERNE -- It's barely large enough to seat three people, but for nearly 50 years, the Wayside Chapel along U.S. 75, north of Luverne, has provided a sanctuary for thousands of weary travelers to rest and reflect.
There are few, if any, of its kind still in use today in southwest Minnesota, but for the parishioners of the Christian Reformed Church in Luverne, their little chapel on the hill will continue to spread the word of God for as long as members are willing to restock the devotionals and scriptures offered within.
The chapel has stood as a beacon on a hill overlooking the Blue Mounds since it was dedicated on June 30, 1963, just months after church members decided to build it.
The Rev. Bert Den Herder began ministering at the Christian Reformed Church just four years after the chapel was built. After returning to the community in 1989 to retire, Den Herder has made it his mission to see that the chapel is kept tidy. He calls the miniature church his baby.
"It's open 24 hours a day, every day of the year," he said.
The chapel is under the supervision of the evangelism committee of Luverne Christian Reformed Church. Funds from church offerings, as well as financial gifts received through the mail, help support the chapel's mission.
That mission, as adopted by the church when the chapel was dedicated, reads: "For all those in this community who seek quiet in the midst of storm, who seek relief from burden and anxiety, who seek peace beyond the understanding of mankind, who seek a restful place to pray and worship, for all those who travel through our community, for those who have forgotten God and for years have not appeared in his house, for those who have never forgotten God, for those on business, for those seeking pleasure and vacation, for those who flee from the past and trouble, for those who are tired and need rest, for these we dedicate this chapel."
The chapel was dreamed up in January 1963, and built at Country Lumber in Leota. It features six stained glass windows -- two on the north, two on the south and two that flank the entrance on the church's east side.
The windows were donated by the Martin Nyenhuis Glass Company, while the church pews inside were donated by the Edgerton First Church.
According to the 25th Anniversary book of the Luverne Christian Reformed Church, "The whole congregation rallied to construct the chapel, building it and transporting it on a hayrack to its site on the top of Blue Mound Hill."
The history book states that more than 40,000 people had visited the chapel by the end of its first summer on the hill. After two years, the number of visitors had grown to 100,000.
"To me, it's very special because it's a way of ministering to the traveling public," said Den Herder of the chapel. It is strategically placed on a highway that stretches from Texas to Canada.
"It's a place where people can go -- there may be people who may not want to enter a church building, but they'll enter this building," Den Herder said. "They don't have to ask for permission, the door is always open."
There is a register inside the chapel, inviting people to sign their names and where they are from. Over the years, many have left notes about the chapel and what it has meant to them.
Said Den Herder, the little church is a place for people to meditate, reflect, pray and rest.
"People have come from all over the world," he said. "A lot from the United States, but also a lot from foreign countries."
The Gideons provide Bibles for the chapel, and Den Herder keeps it stocked with bimonthly copies of "Today" devotionals. Another couple sees that Tracts, also a devotional, is available to visitors.
Only one wedding has been performed inside the chapel that Den Herder is aware of. It took place several years ago, and he officiated the ceremony.
"There was about 20 people in there -- it was standing room only," he said. "The groom wanted to have his wedding in the chapel because his dad had helped with its construction."
Den Herder was retired by then.
"The council made a decision that the pastor of the church may not officiate a wedding at the chapel. They didn't want to make this a public thing like the Little Brown Church in the Vail," he explained. "When I asked the council for permission, they said, 'Well, you're no longer a pastor, so it's OK. So, I could perform that marriage.'"
Den Herder served as pastor of the Luverne Christian Reformed Church for 13 years, from 1967 through 1980. He then served a parish in Kanawha, Iowa, until his retirement in 1989. When he retired from preaching, he and his wife then returned to Luverne.