I’m delighted to share that my most recent book, The Chapel Car Bride, released on April 6th. Writing this latest book was a genuine pleasure because I was able to include a piece of history that isn’t common knowledge. In fact, most folks I talk to have never heard of Chapel Cars. I was fortunate enough to have a friend give me a short piece she’d read in a news magazine years ago. And, then, as if the Lord was pushing me toward sharing the history of chapel cars, a lady who lives in Arkansas was kind enough to send me a large box of research materials about chapel cars. She’d gathered the books and articles while writing her thesis for an advanced college degree. Needless to say, her kindness saved me many hours of research time, and likely gave me some additional insight I might not have located on my own.
My particular story deals with a young woman who accompanies her father on the Herald of Hope chapel car into a small West Virginia coal mining town where she is confronted with the myriad challenges the miners and their families face on a day to day basis.
For those of you who enjoy history, I’ve included a little about the formation and use of chapel cars during beginning in the late 1890s and continuing until 1940.
In 1890, during a meeting between former Coleporter (Circuit Rider) missionary Rev. Boston Smith, who was in charge of Baptist Sunday Schools in Minnesota, and Dr. Wayland Hoyt, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Minneapolis, an answer to the pioneers’ prayers for a religious presence on the western frontier was developed. The concept of The Chapel Car Syndicate, later known as the Chapel Car Ministry, was based on Dr. Hoyt’s experiences of riding with his brother, a railroad executive and tycoon, in his private railroad coach. In this ministry railroad coaches were refurbished as churches/chapels with pews, organs, pulpits and other religious symbols for religious services giving one a sense of actually worshipping in a church. Also, the front of the car was a small apartment for the minister. The Chapel Car Ministry solved the two major problems previous Coleporters faced, they could now travel year around and with a permanent minister assigned to the Chapel Car the coach could cover more territory with one minister and his wife.
The railroads were instrumental in the success of the Chapel Car Ministry. Not only did they pull the coaches free of charge but, they provided other valuable services. Some railroad companies gave special rebates on freight charges for building materials for new churches reducing the cost of building new churches and allowing for more churches to be built.
In 1891 The American Baptist Publication Society dedicated into service their first Chapel Car, The Evangel. Due to the overwhelming success of the Evangel their fleet soon grew to seven coaches. The success of the Chapel Car Ministry on the western frontier can be seen when by 1905 the ministry had helped to establish 135 churches, helped to build 112 meeting houses, organized 243 Bible schools and baptized 4,578 people. Due to this success it reduced the number of Chapel Cars needed on the Western Frontier and the American Baptist Publication Society began assigning the coaches to rural areas across the United States in need of a religious presence.
The success of the Chapel Car Ministry also inspired other churches to put Chapel Cars into service. In 1907 the Catholic Church Extension Society dedicated into service their first coach The St. Anthony. This was followed by two more coaches The St. Paul and the St. Peter. The Episcopal Church of North Dakota led by Bishop William David Walker placed into service a chapel car, Church of the Advent, for the North Dakota area.
Between 1890 and 1940 these churches on rails covered over eight million miles ministering to the religious needs of unchurched areas through the distribution of Bibles and other religious material and establishing new churches and religious programs such as Sunday School programs.