Although it may not be the norm, my family has benefitted from the decision to go to church when we’re on vacation– it is fun to see how people from different traditions worship and conduct their Sunday morning services, and visiting new congregations offers a chance to meet people you might not have otherwise.
I was intrigued when I saw the sign for a Sunday morning service held at the Robert F. Thomas Chapel at Dollywood earlier this year and decided I would find a time to visit and see what that was all about.
What a pleasant surprise when I arrived 15 minutes early for the 11:30 a.m. service to see the room was already filling up. At 11:20, Chaplain Joey Buck invited people to come sit in the choir loft seats (“If you like to sing, try to sing or think you can sing, come on up!”) and by 11:30, the chapel was packed: choir loft seats and all! There were all ages there – lots of families with young children, teenagers, young couples and older people were all well-represented. Note: During most of Dollywood’s season, the chapel service is at 11:30 a.m. on Sundays. During Smoky Mountain Christmas festival, the service is at 5:30 p.m.
The chapel is a delight to see – featuring a beautiful statue of Jesus the Shepherd at the front and the quilted wall hangings all around. It is an interesting education in “vintage” chapels; a building probably much like where many of our forefathers worshiped.
It was a traditional service of worship with a welcome, a call to worship, a message/sermon, and a benediction – all interspersed with singing of hymns (from a real hymnal, no less! That might be unique for your family in this day and time.).
It was delightful to hear the unique way the chaplain incorporated the fact that we were at Dollywood AND at church together. Chaplain Joey started out the worship service by asking, “What makes today good? Besides the fact that you are at church inside a theme park?!” He then gave time to hear several answers from a wide swath of people:
“Because the Lord made it!”
“The Smoky Mountains!”
He reminded us that good shows, good rides, and good food are all good gifts from God, and we should thank Him for those. He tied in different areas of the park, specifically mentioning the scripture outside of Wild Eagle. He quoted theologian and writer Frederick Buechner, yet the message was wholly understandable for children.
Taken from Ephesians 5, he encouraged us to walk as wise people; to speak in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; and live giving thanks for everything to God the Father.
My attention never lagged in the 30 minute service—nor did the attention of the many children sitting around me! And, it was even interactive at times. At one point, he had the children who wanted to come up to the front to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” In Chaplain Joey’s closing, he had the congregation shout out things they gave thanks for:
“My Season Pass to Dollywood!”
I would encourage any Dollywood visitor who is in the park on a Sunday to check out the worship service. As I sat there and watched people before the service started, I thought: What a unique offering in a theme park – one that I have never seen before! It is certainly worth your time– even if you hate to miss half an hour of rides and shows – I guarantee you won’t regret it and will consider it time well spent: a little picture of Heaven with people from different backgrounds, traditions and locations all coming together to worship God in the unique setting of Dollywood!