Aside from the opinion of many people that all national parks are sacred, many sites in the national park system have specifically religious histories, and a number of these continue to serve explicitly religious purposes. Consider, for instance:
- The Ebenezer Baptist Church at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the historic home church of the civil rights leader, now preserved as a museum space; the Ebenezer congregation has a new church directly across the street. King’s tomb is next to the historic church.
- The churches at all four of the primary locations in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, San Antonio, Texas. Each of these Spanish colonial mission churches is unique with its own qualities: the largest and most popular is Mission San José; Mission Concepción has remarkable colonial-era ceiling paintings in one of the buildings; my favorite is Mission Espada, the smallest and most remote of the four sites.
- Devils Tower National Monument. Located in the Black Hills region of eastern Wyoming, this unusual geologic tower formation has long been a sacred site to numerous Native American groups. (A request from Native American groups that the offensive name Devils Tower be changed to the more historically accurate name “Bear Lodge” was answered by Wyoming congressional representatives who introduced legislation in 2015 to retain the Devils Tower name).
- Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark in northern Wyoming. This ceremonial site is of unknown origin, and the specific ritual uses of its builders remain a mystery, but it is still an actively used sacred site for contemporary Native American communities.
- The Chapel at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. Built to serve troops stationed at Fort Yellowstone, the chapel was consecrated in 1913 and was the last building that the army built there. It has remained in more or less continuous use since then, currently utilized for weddings and regular Sunday morning services during the summer season.
- The picturesque and widely photographed Chapel of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal place of worship in Grand Teton National Park. Built in 1925 “to provide spiritual refreshment to dude ranchers and tourists that flocked to the chapel every Sunday to worship and gather as a community,” it continues to provide worship services during the summer season for tourist visitors in a stunning mountain setting.
- Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site, Pennsylvania’s oldest church. According to the congregation’s web site, “Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church is an inner city church blessed with the beauty and charm of a garden-like setting.” The cemetery includes graves of Revolutionary War veterans.
What national park sites would you add to this bucket list of sacred places? ♨