It was July 2013 and we had just completed the sale of our North Eugene property to the Nature Discovery School, a private Christian school. When school leaders commented on how they were going to need a chapel for bible study, we piped up and told them to check out the “free” church recently featured in our local newspaper. So began our “Save the Sonrise Chapel” project.
The Irving Sonrise Congregation had decided they could no longer care for their historical chapel built in 1891. Over the next several weeks we attended community meetings listening to suggestions on how to save the building, as it would be demolished if no alternative were found. So we submitted our plan to move the building three miles to the school and waited as the congregation made their decision. You could tell the congregation was having a hard time giving up their old chapel but seemed relieved when the decision was made to give the chapel to the school.
Nature Discovery School is a small private Christian School and their plan was to use the Chapel for daily bible study, school pageants, graduations and other school activities and also have it available for the local community to use. In a letter back to the congregation and the community, the school owners offered the Chapel as a place to keep and display local historical pictures and, should they ever sell the school, promised to offer the Chapel back to the community.
I volunteered to help Matt and Heather Hennon, owners of the school, figure out how to get the chapel from point A to point B. We started at ground zero – no money, a little moral support, and lots of enthusiasm. After I enlisted some financial help from a sister and construction help from my brother we were off and rolling. We tried to make the move in the fall of 2013 but there were just too many obstacles. It must have been a blessing in disguise as that winter the congregation’s main church was flooded from frozen water pipes and they held services back in the old chapel for several months.
We continued to enlist help and donations from private businesses and extremely generous local individuals. We selected a building mover, Chris Schoap, which was probably the best decision we made. His reputation practically paved the way for us, especially with city, county and utility officials. Mention his name and they were willing to do whatever it took to make the move happen.
We decided the best route was to head north crossing one residential street, hike it two miles through the fields, across the horse pasture and over the swale, spending the night next to a filbert orchard. Day two we’d move a quarter mile down one narrow county road, cross into the last field and finally slip into the north end of the school parking lot. It all sounded easy enough.
The move date was set for August 19 and 20, right after the fields were harvested with the ground hard and dry, perfect for the 112,000-pound chapel. With the steeple dismantled thanks to a fearless brother who climbed inside to set the crane rigging, Chris made the rest look easy getting the church off its foundation, onto his trailers and into position for the move. It took about 5 minutes to cross the street and with the steeple following, at a 50 foot per minute pace, we headed across the fields. We hugged the power pole supporting three major power lines with ease, slipped in and out of the horse pasture and easily crossed the swale. With a sigh of relief we parked it for the night along side our last major obstacle – West Beacon Road.
The next morning it rained! Not a lot, but enough to wonder how he was going to make it up onto that narrow county road without getting stuck. The utility company was out early and had the power lines raised. Chris’s comment was, “Geez, I thought I had another hour!” But it moved up onto the street a lot easier than we imagined and, with a few adjustments narrowing the trailer down to match the road width, we trucked it on down the street.
The sun came out just as we approached our last hurdle – getting down from the road and into the last field. He backed up the Chapel two or three times to get just the right approach. It was a heart stopper watching it make that turn and drop into the field. From there it was smooth sailing through the field and into the parking lot. And what a grand sight to see all the school kids sitting outside, cheering the chapel on as it pulled into its final resting spot. We had made it to its new home, all safe and sound.
The final phase is now being coordinated. While the steeple was off the building, it was painted, reroofed and prepped to go back up top, along with the original 700 pound bell and weathervane. We plan to have the foundation completed this fall.
It is our hope that the Nature Discovery School will be able to hold their Christmas pageant in their very own chapel this winter and for many years to come.