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The first Easter for Whidbey Wayside Chapel

The Wayside Chapel has all the attributes of a normal-sized church, only on a smaller scale. A dozen people can squeeze into the six pews inside - Jim Larsen / Whidbey News-Times
The Wayside Chapel has all the attributes of a normal-sized church, only on a smaller scale. A dozen people can squeeze into the six pews inside
— image credit: Jim Larsen / Whidbey News-Times

Whidbey Island’s tiniest church will experience its first Easter with no congregation and no preacher, but perhaps a passerby or two will stop in for a silent prayer and moment of contemplation.

That was Rene Nydams’ hope when she built the diminutive house of worship on the west side of Highway 20, between Coupeville and Oak Harbor. It sits near her white farmhouse and next to the honor stand where she sells flowers for $4 a bunch, the variety depending on the season. “It supplements my Social Security,” she said of the income.

The church was Rene Nydam’s idea, but she turned to her son Hank to make it a reality. Hank Nydam is Oak Harbor’s parks director, and he has all the skills necessary to build a church. He drew up the plans and went to work with the help of a few friends.

A small sign in front of the church simply states, “Whidbey Wayside Chapel -- Come and Worship.”

“I’ve dreamed of this all my life, and we’ve been here 50 years,” Rene said. Her husband, Gerben Nydam, has passed away.

Visitors to the church see six sawed-off pews donated by Concordia Lutheran Church, which form an aisle between them and seat a total of 12 people. An illustrated Bible is open on the solid wood pulpit made by Hank. It also holds a guest book that visitors are encouraged to sign, and Bibles and Psalter Hymnals are scattered among the pews.

The most noticeable aspect of the church is the eight painted windows. The brilliant colors make the interior glow as the sunlight shines through, and illustrated Bible verses painted by Rene’s granddaughters and friends come to life. The art is rudimentary, but heartfelt and uplifting. Pastor Randy Beumer of Oak Harbor Christian Reformed Church, which Rene Nydam has attended for decades, decorated one of the windows.

At the church entrance is a nylon rope connected to the bell in the tower on top of the church. Rene said it was fashioned out of a gas cylinder by a friend who works for the city. But tucked into one corner of the church is a box containing a genuine church bell that some unknown visitor dropped off during Christmas. Once installed, the calming sound of a church bell pealing will no doubt be a favorite for many visitors to the little church.

There are no restrooms or running water, and it’s no place for a large gathering. The largest to date was when the church was dedicated last year. “It was the first time we had the church packed,” Rene said. It was actually an overflow crowed, with people seated on folding chairs outside the church.

Old friends Rena and Jake Vanoostrum of Yakima were visiting with Rene earlier this week. They’ve seen a number of wayside chapels in their travels, including Washington’s best-known, located outside of Sultan on Highway 2. They’re delighted their old friend decided to build one on Whidbey.

“Whidbey Island didn’t have one but now it does,” said Jake. “It was a family project built for the honor and praise and joy of God.”

Rene Nydam will turn on the lights that outline the cross above the church’s entryway for Easter, and she would be happy if a few visitors drop by and learn an Easter lesson. “I hope people will be reminded to put God first. It’s the most important thing in life,” she said.

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