History of the Chapel in the Hills

How did it come about that there is a stave church in the Black Hills of South Dakota, thousands of miles from the land where this type of architecture and construction originated? It is the result of a dream of one man and the generous support of another...

Rev. Gregerson
Rev. Harry R Gregerson and his Wife

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.Rev. Gregerson

It was the Rev. Conrad Thompson who suggested they build a Stave Church (Stavkirke). Rev. Thompson had spent time in Norway and was familiar with Stave Churches. After careful consideration it was decided to build a Norwegian church on the edge of South Dakota. 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 careDedication Plaquetaker's cabin.

Mr. & Mrs. Dahl
Arndt E. Dahl and his wife

Financing for the Chapel came from a generous donation by a local banker, Arndt E. Dahl. Mr. Dahl's parents were Norwegian immigrants and his father was a Lutheran pastor in the Dakotas. Mr. Dahl wanted to build a memorial to his parents and support Lutheran Vespers.

The Chapel in the Hills was dedicated on July 6, 1969, and it served as the home of Lutheran Vespers until 1975 whem 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 Vesper services and weddings. Today the Chapel sees 20,000 to 25,000 visitors ayear and hosts over 100 weddings each year along with renewal of vows, baptisms, and memorial services

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