Seven years ago, a pair of long, narrow apartments at Big Sky Senior Living stood unrented, looking "like two bowling alleys," in the words of Lauri Yelenich, the facility’s administrator.
But as of Friday morning, the place where the apartments once stood is now the complex’s new chapel, thanks to the efforts of staff, contractors, and an architect.
Amid the singing of hymns and the uttering of blessings, benedictions, and prayers, residents, staff, and clergy gathered Friday at the facility for a blessing of the new worship space.
Yelenich said the new chapel is the complex’s first dedicated worship space. It was the vision of Joe Rude — chief executive officer of Billings-based Health Management Services, which operates the facility — who came up with the idea of turning the largely unused apartments into something meaningful for residents.
“He had a great vision for it, and it just kind of evolved from there,” said Yelenich, who gave opening remarks Friday at Big Sky, an assisted-living facility near the corner of Elizabeth Warren Avenue and Continental Drive.
Brent Giop and Mike Swanson of Custom Construction, general contractor for the project, said they were proud of the work they completed on the chapel, while Butte architect Paul Blumen said he designed the chapel to elicit a welcoming spirit and feelings of warmth.
Big Sky Senior Living Activities Director Michael Engel spoke before worshipers Friday, noting that church services will be held every other Friday in the chapel, starting first with a Catholic mass, followed by a non-denominational service. Every three months the chapel will host a celebration of life event to honor those who have passed away. When services are not being held, he added, residents are free to use the chapel as a contemplative space throughout the day.
Several Butte clergy members attended Friday’s blessing, including Father William Dornbos of Butte’s Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
Dornbos has been serving Big Sky for 14 years, performing around 700 masses at the facility, which previously used its theater for religious services.
“It’s been a great blessing for me to meet so many wonderful people,” said Dornbos, reflecting on his time serving the facility’s residents. “This space will be a wonderful, beautiful addition for our masses and for other religious celebrations.”
Deacon Bernard McCarthy of St. Patrick Catholic Church gave the opening prayer, while Father Brian Miller from Christ Church Anglican performed a benediction.
Blessing the church was Father Russell Radoicich of the Butte’s Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church.
Meanwhile, Pastor Melissa Engel of Aldersgate United Methodist Church spoke on the meaning of sacred spaces.
“A holy place is where God is with us,” Engel said. “It’s here in this chapel, a place that can gather people together to remember who they are and whose they are.
“A holy place is where God is with us,” she continued. “It’s right here, right here in your heart, in every human heart, in every place that holds possibilities for hope, peace, love and joy in all times and in all ways.”