Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part VI: The Little Chapel off the Interstate in Clear Lake June 9, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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My husband, Randy, leaves the Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel as Scott Kennedy and his nephew finish cleaning.

My husband, Randy, leaves the Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel as Scott Kennedy and his nephew finish cleaning.

WHEN WE FINALLY FOUND the Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel tucked into the woods along South 24th Street in Clear Lake, Iowa, after we’d asked for directions and still drove by the unmarked landmark, we met Scott Kennedy.

Scott Kennedy outside the chapel built in honor of his aunt.

Scott Kennedy outside the chapel built in honor of his aunt.

He was there with his nephew, an Iowa State University student from the western U.S., cleaning the chapel and grounds for a funeral the next day.

I forgot to count the pews.

I forgot to count the pews. But I believe there are eight or ten, each seating only a few people.

It’s difficult to envision a funeral inside this miniscule place of only a few short pews. But one was planned and the mess from an invading squirrel needed to be swept and gathered into garbage bags. Although I did not see it, my husband spotted the succumbed squirrel.

The day was overcast, the chapel dark, making photographing it a challenge.

The chapel is beautiful in its craftsmanship. This place is truly a labor of divine love.

I was more focused on the chapel interior with its beautiful center stained glass cross crafted by a local artist and side stained glass windows salvaged from Zion Lutheran Church. The cross was designed to attract the attention of travelers along nearby Interstate 35.

This truly is a functional church with altar, organ and baptismal font.

Exiting the chapel grounds.

Exiting the chapel grounds.

I was especially delighted to find my favorite bible verse—the scripture that has guided me through some rough patches in life—inscribed on a dedication plaque inside the entry: We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him.—Romans 8:28. Serendipitous? Perhaps. But more likely divine.

It is the divine intervention of God which led Scott and others to construct the Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel in 1991 in honor of Scott’s aunt, Marguerite Williams. She was convinced that God protected her from kidnapping by a band of gypsies while growing up in Clear Lake. And later, while working at a Chicago medical clinic, Marguerite again experienced God’s protection when she encountered a gang of hoodlums.

It was hoodlums, or more accurately criminals, who set fire to the first Guardian Angel Chapel a year after it was built, Scott shared. The blaze was to distract responders from a break-in across town. Undeterred, Scott and others determined to rebuild this chapel which was rededicated on April 4, 1993.

An informational paper I found inside the chapel states its purpose:

This chapel was built as a witness to Christ. It is the hope and prayers of the builders that people worshipping here will be closer to Christ and will have their own guardian angel look after them.

This is looking toward the highway off which the chapel sits atop a hill in a wooded area.

This is looking toward the highway off which the chapel sits atop a hill in a wooded area.

FYI: The chapel is open daily from dawn until dusk, although I am uncertain whether it’s open during the winter months.

Check back tomorrow for my final installment in this seven-part series on Clear Lake, Iowa.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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25 Responses to “Part VI: The Little Chapel off the Interstate in Clear Lake”

  1. Marilyn Says:

    The stated purpose of this beautiful little chapel is a sweet heavenly blessing: “This chapel was built as a witness to Christ. It is the hope and prayers of the builders that people worshipping here will be closer to Christ.” This visual metaphor is summed up in that lovely stained glass cross.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    What a treasure!

  3. Jackie Says:

    Oh you know I LOVE this post!!! What a beautiful little chapel. I love that it’s set off the beaten path in the woods. We ran across my favorite little church in the woods near grand Marais. I have a feeling there are a lot of these little houses of God tucked away, just waiting to be explored. My favorite part of this “read” is in the purpose…. “This chapel was built as a witness to Christ”, there is no greater purpose 🙂 Thanks for sharing this little gem in the woods !

    • You are welcome. I would have stayed longer inside this chapel and prayed except Scott and his nephew were trying to finish their work. Still, I could feel that incredible peace just standing inside for a short time.

  4. There is a song called “Church in the WildWood” written I believe by William Pitts and performed by the Carter family and Dolly Parton did a version herself, which immediately comes to mind. The beautiful lyrics are available on Google. I Love this little chapel and it is so gratifying to know that Christianity is alive and well, at least, in some parts of the U.S.A.

  5. Romans 8:28 is my favorite verse too – has been since my confirmation days – although Galatians 2:20 comes in a close second. Although Lutherans technically don’t go on pilgrimages, I will put this on my list of places to visit before I…

  6. John Graf Says:

    Have you heard of “the world’s smallest cathedral” also known as St. Anthony’s Chapel located on farm about one mile west of Festina, Iowa? Last time I was there, it was easy to find as there were signs along the highway leading the travelor to it. It is open daylight hours year round. I think it seats 8-10 people. I must find the Guardian Angels in Clear Lake. Was not aware of that one.

    • Did you tell me about St. Anthony’s Chapel before? I need to look up the location of Festina.

      • John Graf Says:

        I do not remember. Festina is about 10 miles south of Decorah. If I remember correctly it was signed from Iowa Hwy 150. It is on a farm, built my immigrants in Thanksgiving for safe passage to the new world. I think it is about 150 years old. The Fritz Chapel near Bellevue Iowa has a similiar story. That is an outside chapel. Bellevue is along the Mississippi River south of Dubuque. That one is signed from US Hwy 52. My offer to take you and anyone else interested on a church tour of northeast Iowa stands anytime you want to go.

      • Oh, shoot, I was just in Dubuque last summer. But there’s always another time. Thanks, John, for all of the tips.

  7. What a beautiful little chapel and the stained glass windows are absolutely stunning. Thanks for sharing.

  8. hotlyspiced Says:

    It’s small but beautiful and I’m glad we got to have a look inside. I do love the angel gates and the turned wood inside the church is beautiful. I loved stained glass windows too xx

  9. Sartenada Says:

    What a charming chapel! I enjoyed this post very much.


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