Go tell it on the mountain…
At 1:30 p.m. last Sunday, the Roundhouse chairlift at Alpine Meadows was closed and in need of maintenance. Twenty minutes later, lift mechanics had solved the problem and the lift was running again, just in time to get people to the scheduled 2 p.m. church service held at the top of the Roundhouse chairlift overlooking Lake Tahoe.
Approximately 20 people gathered to sing, pray and hear a short sermon given by Jeff and Darcy Anderson, mountain chaplains with Tahoe Resort Ministries.
Meanwhile, similar services were taking place at five other North Lake Tahoe ski areas, with Christians of all denominations gathering to give thanks and reflect on their lives and the lives of others.
Church services at area ski resorts are nothing new. First held at Squaw Valley in the 1960s, Alpine Meadows began offering regular Sunday services in 1972; and in 1979, Northstar, Mt. Rose, Diamond Peak and Homewood also began hosting services.
Tahoe Resort Ministries, a coalition of local churches led by the First Baptist Church of Tahoe City, sends two volunteers to each of the six participating resorts every Sunday for the 2 p.m. services. The volunteers are typically lay people from the church who enjoy skiing and want to offer guests at the resorts an opportunity to worship in the natural beauty of the mountains.
Debbie Wohler, one of the founding members of Tahoe Resort Ministries in the 1960s, said “The services are just a chance to stop and worship together and meet Christians from all over.”
The dramatic settings, Wohler said, lend an inspiring touch to the outdoor services.
“You just look out and you say ‘Somebody bigger than me must be responsible for all this,'” Wohler said.
Ski Chaplain Jeff Anderson agrees that the setting lends an air of grandeur to the services. “We’ve had a lot of people who come and say that church didn’t do it for them, and although they’re hearing the same message that would be given in church, the setting frees them or something and allows them to see that it’s about a relationship with God,” Anderson said.
Normally the mountain services will draw between 15 and 25 guests; however, crowds of more than 100 people are common for Easter Sunday services. Weather also plays a role in the size of the crowd, with spring-like conditions being ideal.
The service at Alpine Meadows was mostly attended by out-of-town guests, which Anderson said was typical of the mountain services.
“I think our goal is really to allow people who are visiting and don’t have a church up here to be able to come worship and to experience their faith in a different setting,” Anderson said. “A lot of times, when you get a fairly big group and you ask people where they’re from, they can be from all over the country. There are families vacationing out here, sometimes they’re from here, a lot of times you get parents with kids working at the resort.”
San Francisco resident Connie Cassady made a point to stop by the service at Alpine Meadows. She has been to Sunday services at all six of the participating resorts and enjoys the fact that the services are held on the hill.
“I’m a very spiritual person, for one thing, and I go to church regularly when I’m in town, so when I’m not there I still need my spirituality here,” Cassady said, adding that in the outdoor setting “you can see, hear, smell all of God’s glory. It’s very very special. I love my church but I love this church too.”
Darcy Anderson was a ski instructor at Alpine Meadows for six years and brought her husband into the ski chaplain program. She said her work with the Tahoe Resort Ministries has led to a number of requests from people who want to get married on the slopes or elsewhere.
“It’s funny because all my ski instructor buddies call me ‘Chap’ for ‘Chaplain,’ and I actually was asked to do a wedding for a couple of them this fall in Meeks Bay,” she said.
The service at Alpine Meadows was relatively brief, and after a couple of songs, a prayer, a responsive reading and a short sermon, attendees at Sunday’s service clipped back into their bindings and rode off to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
Church services on the ski slopes are held every Sunday, beginning the Sunday before Christmas and continuing through Easter. Services begin at 2 p.m., last approximately 20 minutes, and are held at Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar, Mt. Rose, Diamond Peak and Homewood resorts.
For meeting locations and more information contact Debbie Wohler at the First Baptist Church of Tahoe City at 583-2925.