Church In The Woods Closes With Forest

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A spry woman who will be 90 in the fall, stops to pocket a stray piece of trash and move a rock off the trail as she walks up the hill to the outdoor, non-denominational chapel just down the road from Kohl's Ranch.

Her name is Zue Menter (pronounced "zoo").

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Zue Menter has been attending this non-denominational outdoor church for more than 40 summers. The church is located in the forest near Kohl's Ranch and was forced to stop holding services when the forest closed.

She and her late husband Lawrence "Bud" Menter spent five days hauling rock to create the trail to the little chapel they attended for over 40 summers.

"We did it because we loved the place," Menter said. "By the third thank you we were embarrassed."

But she still has a pink "Good Guy" shirt from May 1990 when Madge Hannon nominated the Menters for the award.

Rounding a bend on the trail, pine trees hold up a cathedral of sky. Their scent mixes pleasantly with the smell of a monsoon rain rolling over the Mogollon Rim.

Three tiers of benches made of concrete and flagstone and another bench at the back made from two halves of a felled pine, face the rustic wooden pulpit and cross.

A carefully placed bouquet of bright silk flowers lies at the base of the cross.

Menter says there are ashes of people who also loved the church buried there beneath the cross.

Next to the cross, stand two trees. Between them, Menter prepared the monthly communion.

When her husband was still alive, the Menters used to come every Saturday before services to sweep and make sure it was clean.

The chapel looks as though it might hold 50 worshippers.

"I've seen as many as a hundred people in attendance," she said.

A different minister comes every Sunday.

Menter recalls the late Rev. Perry Epley as one of the first men of the cloth to preach at the chapel.

"It didn't make any difference what denomination people were," Menter said. "We got campers because there was a campground across the road and people who were staying at (Kohl's Ranch)."

Often, someone would bring a guitar or the Payson Ministerial Service has a battery-operated keyboard to the service. A chorus of voices singing hymns would be added to the songs of woodland birds.

How the chapel came to be seems to be lost to history.

"I think six or eight couples got together, wanted the chapel and it just evolved from there," Richard Hand said.

Hand remembers going to the church once in a while as a child in the 1950s.

"When I could avoid it, I would," Hand said. "But I remember my mom trying to encourage me to go."

The family owned a cabin at Kohl's and used to walk to the church in the woods when they were vacationing in the summer.

Hand's father, Lawrence Hand was a builder in Chandler.

He brought his skills to the church as well, building a wooden footbridge across the creek, which the trail winds over.

"I remember dad used to act as usher and take the collections," Hand said. "(Dad) was 96 and had dementia when he passed away, but he always asked about the chapel."

So, the family decided that instead of flowers from mourners they would take donations to fix up the little chapel or perhaps buy hymnals for it.

Normally, a rotating minister from the Payson Ministerial Fellowship gives the service at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday, from Memorial to Labor Day.

Because the chapel is on Forest Service land, the church closes when the forest closes.

This year, they were only able to meet four times, said Todd Arnold, fellowship secretary and pastor of Shepherd of the Pines Lutheran Church.

Until it is safe and the forest reopens, there will not be any services at the little chapel in the woods.

-- To reach Carol La Valley call 474-5251 ext. 122 or
e-mail clavalley@payson.com.

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