by John Klawiter, M.Div. '12
Most snowbirds come from cold weather climates and migrate south for winter. But some of them look for more snow.
All Saints in Big Sky, located in Big Sky, Mont., is a church that has thrived as a winter wonderland for skiers, but also for summer hikers and fishermen. All Saints has also adapted to the various denominational traditions of those snowbirds to become the unique entity that it is today.
For Lutherans searching for a church when they travelled to Big Sky, there was a slight problem. Prior to 2008, there wasn't a Lutheran Church. St. Christopher's was an Episcopal congregation that began with around six people in the 1990s, and grew to open Big Sky Chapel in 1998.
Lutherans kept showing up to the only Protestant service in town. Eventually, a desire for Lutheran liturgy grew. Patrick and Jeanne Miller, Lutherans from Detroit, moved to Big Sky 11 years ago. "It was 45 miles of bad roads to Bozeman [and the nearest Lutheran church]," said Patrick. "We couldn't be active [from so far away] and it was hard to get there."
A few years later, Lutheran pastor Darius Larsen, '73, was working for the ELCA out of Chicago, traveling as a mission director throughout the Montana, Idaho and Washington regions. Larsen owned a home in Big Sky and sought a home church. Since a Lutheran church didn't exist, he agreed to provide his pastoral services. He offered a Lutheran service one Sunday every other month, which was when he could guarantee he was in town.
In 2007, a union congregation was formed between the Episcopalians, the ELCA and a holding company in Big Sky, thus creating three sub-corporations. Thus All Saints in Big Sky was born.
The timing couldn't have been better for Larsen, who enjoyed his role in the ELCA, but was tiring of the traveling it required. In 2008, Larsen's preaching became a more permanent fixture when All Saints called him. He was installed as the first pastor/priest—Larsen was declared an Episcopal Priest by the Episcopalian Diocese when he took the call to All Saints.
Each congregation that uses Big Sky Chapel pays rent—a Catholic congregation and an evangelical Christian fellowship worships there on Sundays too. An extensive fundraising campaign and a generous gift of land from a ski resort paid for the construction of the chapel, thus the three groups that use the facility aren't saddled with a mortgage. They each pay a modest monthly fee for upkeep and use of the building. Giving is separated by Episcopalian and Lutheran, and benevolence is doled out equally to their governing bodies. Because they don't have to shoulder the burden of paying an entire mortgage, All Saints is able to spend the remainder of their income on pastoral care and outreach.
"We are stronger together than apart," said Larsen. "Many of our members come from different backgrounds and almost half are associate members—their primary worship community is somewhere else—but we remain the only mainline Protestant denomination in Big Sky."
Worship services incorporate the Book of Common Prayer and also Lutheran worship books. "The first thing you notice is the music," said Miller. "We each have our traditions. But past that, I don't notice much of a difference."
"In worship, I know where I'm going and the musician is my dance partner," said Larsen. "When it works, we make music together for the glory of God."
As Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and "Significant Others" gather together for worship each week, instead of dancing on each other's toes, this small destination church tucked in the Rockies continues to make beautiful music for the glory of God.