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The Carthage Press
  • Precious Moments Chapel celebrates 25 years in Carthage

  • It's been a low-key celebration so far, but significant nonetheless, as the world famous Precious Moments Chapel celebrates the 25th anniversary of its grand opening in 1989.
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  • It's been a low-key celebration so far, but significant nonetheless, as the world famous Precious Moments Chapel celebrates the 25th anniversary of its grand opening in 1989.
    While some may see the Chapel as a tourist attraction that's seen better days, when the complex featured the Wedding Island, fountain and RV Park, the family of Creator Sam Butcher and those who run the Precious Moments Foundation see a ministry with a bright future, helping more and more people every day.
    "To me it's never really been a tourist attraction, although people have called it that," said Don Butcher, Sam Butcher's son and the sole member of the family on the Precious Moments Supporting Foundation Board. "That was never my father's intent, ever. Things expanded and there have been a lot of changes, but the jewel in the crown has never changed and I don't think it ever will.
    "This is a quiet place for peace and inspiration. That's what the Precious Moments Chapel is all about and my intent as the one family member on the board is to make sure that that lasts as long as it possibly can, because I think that's an important ministry in today's noisy, busy world."
    Don Butcher, Foundation Board Chairman and long time family friend James Malcolm and President Terri Heckmaster talked to The Carthage Press about the Chapel that has been a destination for millions of people around the world, its present and future.
    Creator Sam Butcher, who is in town for a few weeks from his permanent home in the Philippines, talked about maintaining the Chapel and his plans to restore and change some of the murals in what has been billed as "the Sistine Chapel of North America."
    "I see things every time I come that I just feel I have to change, like the 16 windows that I painted on the side way up at the top," Sam Butcher said. "I painted all of those 16 windows in about four days, but I don't like any of them. While I'm here, I'm going to have all of those windows taken out and I'm going to repaint them again with the children of the Bible. This my third time on those. I didn't like the first one and I didn't like the second one, so this is the third time and you're out."
    In the beginning
    Don Butcher recalled his father moving their family from Grand Rapids, Mich., to Carthage in 1985 after a long road trip in which Sam Butcher searched for a place to build his vision.
    Don Butcher said his first job at age 14 was working with contractor Elliott Hunter Construction Co. on the concrete foundation of the Chapel.
    "I was in there with boots, doing the footings for that Chapel, it was my summer job," Don Butcher said. "It was nice of him to give me a summer job — not so nice for it to be concrete work. It was a crazy bunch of years because nobody knew what was going to happen. He had an idea and the funny thing is, it was never explained to us what this was going to be. He just had a vision, and if you've spent time with him you realize his whole life is a vision."
    Page 2 of 3 - Don recalled working with his father on the Chapel's ornate stained glass windows. He said scaled line drawings of the windows were on one set of tables and more than 400 samples of different colors and textures of stained glass were on another set of tables.
    "He would call off numbers and I would write them in the little spots for each piece of glass," Don Butcher said. "I noticed in the beginning he was picking up the pieces of glass and looking at them, but by the end of the night he was calling out numbers. He had stopped looking at the glass and there were over 400 pieces. We were flying through these things. We did like six windows in a night, which is crazy. I'm thinking this has got to be random. This is going to be random colors, but when they came in it was incredible, every single piece of glass was exactly where it should be. It was mindboggling."
    Don Butcher was 19 and a college student headed to study in the Far East on June 20, 1989 when the Chapel finally opened its doors to the public.
    "The significance is different for everybody, but it's pretty fantastic, just the idea that we've been here for 25 years," he said. "I was a kid when he was on his back painting that, so for me it's going to be a little bit different than, say, for Terri (Heckmaster). When she came in, she was our first gift-shop manager. We've got several employees in our company, Precious Moments Inc., who have been here for 25 years."
    Future plans
    Heckmaster said a larger celebration will take place at the Precious Moments Family Reunion Event, Aug. 15-17.
    At that time, the the Precious Moments will break ground on Timmy's Tower, a bell tower and memorial to Sam Butcher's son, Timothy Butcher, who died on Oct. 14, 2012. The tower will be built adjacent to the Chapel.
    "Timmy's Tower, from the family's perspective, is a memorial to my brother who passed away a couple of years ago," Don Butcher said. "It is a bell tower. It will be similar to the Tim Ryan Room and my brother, Phil's memorial room. Historically, those have given people a lot of peace, people who have experienced loss. I think that's why my dad wanted to do this as well. I think it's a way for him to deal with his loss, but it has also helped hundreds of thousands of other people."
    Don Butcher said the Foundation is working on plans for the property east of Chapel Road where the former Wedding Island and RV park are located, but nothing is firm at this time.
    He said while it would be nice to see that land developed, it's not vital to the health of the Chapel to have anything over there.
    Page 3 of 3 - "We have a lot of hopes for what's going to happen on the east side of the road," Don Butcher said. "We've worked for a long time with some pretty major organizations to get us to those goals, I can't go into the details of what those goals are, but the RV Park, the wedding island, right now we keep those up. We obviously don't want to let them fall apart, we maintain them, but I don't think we have any immediate plans on reopening either of those.
    "The interesting thing is that Precious Moments has always been and will always be about the Chapel, the Precious Moments foundation. The Chapel has reached out through its ministries and its philanthropic missions and sort of linked up, through our brand, to other organizations to do what we do. We try to spread love, joy, peace and hope, into the world."

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