TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Let’s get the technical garble out of the way: In the summer of 1909, on land donated by the Bliss family and under the direction of Bishop Moreland of the Diocese of Sacramento, the Chapel of the Transfiguration rose to life from “stones dug out of the hillside” and massive cedar logs supporting a shake roof.
A summertime Sunday school had been meeting for nearly a decade, and after visiting the site just west of Tahoe City proper, Bishop Moreland decided a church should be planted. In September of ’09, Moreland installed Rev. Charles Lathrop to minister to the congregation “seated under the canopy of heaven.” Local Washo peoples wove baskets and rugs to adorn furniture carved from cedar and pine (and intentionally incorporated errors, since only God can be perfect).
Various clergy members were appointed for the following summers until, in 1957, Bishop Noel Porter appointed the first full-time priest to preach in a newly-installed chapel, built in a renovated dormitory used by Bliss and reputedly one of the buildings shipped across the lake on a barge. And that’s enough of that.
Fast forward to today. A mile and change south of the Tahoe City “Y,” serenaded by bluejays and chickadees and the clarinet-guitar-tuba Musical Peanut Gallery, amid the old (for Tahoe) growth trees stretching toward the Tahoe-blue skies, a congregation consisting of the entire spectrum of Tahoe life (including dogs and porcupines [one of which is a baby and unbelievably adorable]) meets on Sunday to celebrate life and beauty in the presence of the cedar and rock Chapel of the Transfiguration, still adorned with the same cedar and pine furniture draped with Washo-woven rugs and baskets.
For the rest of the week, kidlets and teenagers swarm the Chapel and surrounding land while attending Camp Noel Porter under the guidance of various clergy members appointed from somewhere in the diocese.
In 2009, a member of the congregation installed benches that convert to picnic tables as an Eagle Scout project. A memorial wall was built just to the side, with the option of immortalizing loved ones on plaques mortared into local rock. Another Eagle Scout project will install a stone pathway from the pews to the wall. In 2011, after a years-long campaign, the Chapel of the Transfiguration was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And when available, the Chapel of the Transfiguration has become a phenomenal backdrop for a wedding.
Granted, gremlins occupy the sound system, so when it’s not shorting out, it’s picking up the wireless mics from Corpus Christi across the parking lot. Yes, there is road noise and bike traffic and foot traffic and the joys of a summer weekend. And it’s outside, so there is also pollen and falling pine needles and dust and the threat of splinters or a surprise on the treat table. And squirrels and birds and chipmunks, an occasional bear or raccoon, and all the rest of the Tahoe ecosystem to distract from the lectionary readings and occupy youthful explorers.
But then again, there are all of those distractions: at the Chapel of the Transfiguration, we celebrate and worship amid the vast, diverse, and sometimes strange glory of Tahoe.
Please join us for an opening celebration on Father’s Day, June 16. Setup begins at 8 a.m. and is serenaded by the Musical Peanut Gallery. Service is at 9 a.m. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and confections follow.
Russell Richardson, MM, MFA, is St. Nick’s publicist and tuba player.