Suwannee Democrat

May 2, 2013

Chapel of the Woods-A unique worship experience

Joyce Marie Taylor
Suwannee Democrat

Mayo — At least 200 people are expected to come out to the Chapel of the Woods in Cook’s Hammock on Saturday, May 11, to celebrate Mother’s Day in song beginning at 11:30 a.m., according to church member Janet Story. Many people from area churches will be there with singers and there will also be bluegrass gospel bands on hand to keep everyone entertained.

Unlike any other

Chapel of the Woods is a fairly new church in Lafayette County and it is unlike any other chapel you may have ever stepped inside. It is located off CR 357 in Cook’s Hammock on property adjacent to R.O. Ranch Equestrian Park.

Red Schulte said when he and his wife donated the land to Suwannee River Water Management, their goal was to have the 2,500 acres turned into an equestrian park, appropriately named R.O. Ranch, which is already open for business, but still awaiting other projects to be completed.

Chapel of the Woods is unique in that it has no electricity, no water, and no indoor plumbing. Not to worry, though, there is a matching outdoor outhouse to accommodate your needs, complete with a toilet and urinal.

Story said, “One of the little kids goes in there and comes back out and says, ‘Mommy, I can’t find the handle to flush.’”

There are also “late-comer pews” attached to the outside of the chapel by the two windows.

“They’re always full,” Story said.

“In the old days they weren’t allowed to come in late and disturb the service,” said Schulte. “They had to sit outside.”

Lighting, when needed, is accomplished through the use of battery powered lights, old fashioned kerosene lanterns, or simply the sun’s natural light or the glow of the moon and the stars.

“Right now we’re completely happy without having power and water,” said Story. “It’s just an expense and we don’t have any. We don’t pass an offering plate.”

Story said it’s beautiful inside the chapel, especially at night with the lamps lit.

“You can see how it opens up with the two large windows, so we don’t have to grow. We just use the outdoors,” she said.

The chapel was built and completed on June 9, 2010, by all volunteer labor and then it was dedicated to Ollie Juanita Schulte (Red Schulte’s wife), Chana Cannon Jones (Story’s aunt) and all the pioneering women of the past, present and future.

The wood for the structure came from the trees on the property that had to be cut to make room for roads, Schulte explained.

“We got a sawmill in here and milled the boards out and let them dry for a year,” said Schulte.

His wife is buried on the property and her unique stone gravesite is something you won’t see anywhere else. Schulte said in 2006 before his wife died, the two of them singlehandedly (with help from a front end loader) excavated two large rocks from one side of the property and moved them over to where they wanted their family plot to be. The two rocks sit one atop the other now and the initials R.S. and O.S. grace the cement footing, along with the words R.O. Ranch and the year 2006.

“Essentially, we erected the chapel in one day,” said Schulte.

With all the volunteers gathered together at the site that day, they started out with breakfast, followed by a benediction, and then it was time to start building the church.

“I had it designed out where whenever we could ring the bell we’d be finished for the day and say it was built,” Schulte said. “Then we had supper and that’s the way it worked. It was just about dark and we got rained out a little bit for about an hour or so.”

A large outdoor covered picnic pavilion was recently added and it, too, was built with all volunteer labor. On Easter Sunday, Story said 101 people showed up for Easter Sunday services.

“We fed them breakfast,” said Story. “We were not prepared for that. We’re still learning.”

There are three pastures around the chapel and one of them is home to four mules who can be seen grazing as you look out the windows of the chapel. The next pasture has seven mules and the third has 10, Schulte said.

Schulte is known around the county for his mule-driven wagon, which he supplies for a variety of events, including the Pioneer Days parade to carry Granny and Pappy, the Christmas parade to give Santa Claus a country style sleigh to ride in, as well as Christmas caroling around Cook’s Hammock with the locals. Story said there are probably about 60-70 residents who live in Cook’s Hammock.

Pastor Lamar “Cooter” McCray presides over the services at the chapel and has been doing so for about a year, ever since he met up with Schulte. His first service was June 17 last year.

“Since then we have took in roughly 15 members,” said McCray.

Story said their plans are to fashion a baptismal out of a horse watering trough so that it fits in with their setting.

“A clean one, not used,” she said, laughing.

McCray said many of the folks who frequent the equestrian park ride over to the church on Sundays, hitch their horses to the post and take a seat in the chapel. Also, people from other churches and different denominations stop in on occasion.

“People just seem to fall in love with the church,” said McCray. “We forget about the electricity, we forget about the water, and we just come and worship the Lord.”

McCray said they’ve had some cold times and some rainy times, but everyone seems to enjoy the chapel services and they don’t let the weather stand in the way. If it’s cold, they build a fire and if it’s hot they have cardboard fans.

“They just come to fellowship, to visit with one another and encourage one another,” said McCray. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s not the name on the church. It’s what’s in our hearts. It was the dream of Mr. Red and Miss Ollie to have a church in this community.”

As for the Mother’s Day Sing on May 11, Story said it will be a fun day of fellowship with lots of food and lots of singing. The meat will be provided by the chapel, and guests are asked to bring a side dish for the meal, as well as a lawn chair.

“Everybody that wants to come and sing, come and sing until nobody wants to sing anymore,” said Story.

Gary Shook, one of the piano players, brings his two dogs, a Shepherd and a Chihuahua with him and they stay planted at his feet while he plays, Story said. Shook is also the one who donated the piano to the chapel.

There is no dress code, Story said, so it doesn’t matter if you’re in cut-offs or jeans or all dressed up.

“Come as you are,” she said. “It’s a unique experience. You need to visit at least once.”

“We’re non-denominational,” said McCray. “Come and worship.”

If your family, club or organization would like to plan an event at the chapel, please contact Chaplain Lamar “Cooter” McCray at 386-294-1643. Sunday Church Services are at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., as well as a Tuesday evening prayer service at 7 p.m. with “bring a dish” dinner served at 6:30 p.m.