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Chapel of love

By Megan Brandsrud W

hen Dean Beckwith, a retired ELCA pastor, originally bought the

property he now lives on in Saddle Lake, Mich., he was immediately intrigued by the old well house that stood on a portion of the half-acre lot. So when a contractor sug- gested tearing it down to build a garage, Beckwith refused: “I always thought it would be nice to have it be a little chapel on the land.” For a while though, the well

house went through a bit of an identity crisis. “At first I just used it to store lawn furniture,” Beckwith said. “But it had a steeple on it that I built and added about 15 years ago with the idea of it becoming a chapel someday. So it was an odd-looking building for a while—a shed, which wasn’t really a shed, with a steeple on top.” But then something—or rather, someone—helped

inspire Beckwith to make his dream come to fruition: his wife, Laura, whom he married seven years ago. “I’d told Laura about my idea and we agreed that if it

was going to happen, it should happen soon because we weren’t getting any younger,” he said. When the chapel project was finally completed a few

years ago, Beckwith planned a surprise dedication of it on his wife’s 70th birthday, where he unveiled its name: Laura Chapel. “I had an inkling he was planning something for

my birthday, but I had no clue he was doing this chapel dedication,” she said. “To have that named after me was quite an honor. We had dear friends who helped plan the whole thing and about 50 people showed up for the celebration. When I think about it, I still get kind of emo- tional. He thinks I’m pretty special, I guess.” Beckwith wrote a formal dedication program and had

the praise band from Immanuel Lutheran Church, Alle- gan, Mich., where he’d served as interim pastor, perform the music for the service. In addition to the personal significance the chapel has

for the couple, it also holds a great deal of history. The altar in the chapel was given to Beckwith from what was


Laura and Dean Beckwith stand outside a converted chapel on their property that he dedicated to his wife.

originally First English Lutheran Church (now Peace) in South Haven, Mich., where he grew up. Judging from a keyhole to a cabinet on the back of the altar, the fixture dates to the early 1900s. Beckwith also acquired the baptismal font from

First English—the one he was baptized in 74 years ago. Another treasured piece is a traveling communion kit that Beckwith has been holding on to since it was given to him in 1976. “It means a lot to have these things that were no lon-

ger being used find a home in the chapel,” he said. “His- tory becomes more important as you get older, I guess.” The Laura Chapel has become an important place for

the Beckwiths and their friends. It has served as a place of prayer for people who have lost family members, and it was the venue for a wedding vow renewal service for friends. Later this year they plan to use it for a baptismal service for the granddaughter of family friends. They hope to someday see a wedding ceremony take place in Laura Chapel. “It has a certain specialness to it,” Laura Beckwith

said. “It isn’t super fancy, but it has all this history tied into it, and people who have vis- ited or used it say it’s become a place of quiet and peace for them.” 

Author bio: Brandsrud is an associate editor of The Lutheran.


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