April 03, 2023
There are many reasons you “should” visit Dollywood—from the roller coasters and games to the food and shopping, you can’t go wrong. Perhaps it’s the deep-seated hope that you might catch a glimpse of Dolly herself. No matter the reason, you’ll find all of the above (minus a guarantee on seeing Dolly) and leave with a barrel of memories to last you until your next visit. While the main attractions may be what brings people in, you’ll find a few extra experiences that perhaps you weren’t expecting to find in a theme park— everything from the American Eagle Foundation’s home at Dollywood, equipped with a theater to showcase eagles and other birds of prey, to watching craftsmen and artisans create their handmade goods right in front of you. But the most unlikely of all the experiences, to me, is the Robert F. Thomas Chapel.
The chapel was named after the doctor who delivered Dolly in exchange for a sack of cornmeal. At first, I used to believe this chapel (in Dollywood) was named because of the good doctor’s connection to Dolly, but the chapel was actually built and dedicated to Dr. Thomas long before Dollywood entered the picture. Find more fascinating facts and stories behind the chapel in this blog post.
The chapel turns 50 years old this year and is looking mighty youthful for its age. From colorful quilts hanging on the walls to the old wooden pews (some of which were made in the 1800s), this unlikely theme park attraction is certainly worth taking a moment to pause and step inside— if for no other reason than it is not merely an attraction, but a place of peace tucked away amid all the chaos and fun.
Why Step Inside the Chapel?
Though the chapel is a symbol of the Christian faith, guests don’t have to be Christian or even religious to step inside. As the sign out front states, “Everyone Welcome.” I find the chapel to be a safe space to come (just as you are) and take a break. Whether you want to step away from the people and sounds filling the park or the overall consuming thought of life itself, the chapel is a place to come and just breathe—even if for a moment—to get away from it all.
Even with kids, it can be a moment to say “hey, in a day that is all about fun, we’re going to take a moment to just be quiet—perhaps even grateful—and soak in all the fun we get to have today.” I think especially today, in a world full of social media and instant gratification, to be given these small moments in life to pause, absorb and reflect can remind us how to be human again, to be grateful for what we have and to simply be present. It’s a moment to pause, to not just rush through the day and get to the next ride before the day ends, and everyone drives home. It’s a moment to take in all that you are experiencing that day and a moment to be reminded that you actually can handle whatever it is you are going back to once you leave the park. It’s a chance to check back in with yourself, count heads if you need to, make sure your party is all together and take a deep breath before continuing on life’s journey.
When Can You Visit the Chapel?
The chapel’s hours are the same as the park; you are free to come and go anytime you please within the park hours. Need a moment in the middle of the day? Perhaps you need a chance to take everything in after a full day? Either way, feel free to step inside the chapel whenever you feel you might need it. There’s also a prayer request book, and whether you pray or not, even if you have a concern heavy on your heart, you can jot it down (anonymous if you like), knowing that even just a little bit of your concern has been lifted. I’ve caught myself from time to time peeking through the book, and every now and again I read something that nudges my heart to say a prayer for someone I’ve never even met. There’s a mysterious peace to it, or as many might say, a “peace that passes understanding.”
If you happen to visit Dollywood on a Sunday, you can actually attend a 30-minute Sunday service in the chapel. To get a feel for what the service is like, be sure to watch this video!
Perhaps it’s not so much about needing a break, a prayer or a spiritual feeling; maybe you’re just curious and would like to see the woodworking. Maybe for you it is just an attraction – in that case, step right in! It is just as much a work of art as it is a place of peace. And at the end of the day, no matter your reasoning, all are welcome through the chapel doors – just as you are.