Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Precious Moments Chapel

If you follow us over on Facebook, you know we have had a long running goal of getting to 1,000 fans, with the promise of "taking one for the team" and visiting the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, MO. I've known since the day I started this blog that I couldn't call myself a Missouri blogger without reporting on one of our most unusual attractions, so it became a running gag that I would have to "drag" Francis there, despite the fact that I wasn't terribly excited about going, myself.

I started to write this blog by saying that we had been 80% swayed by our visit to the Chapel. As we drove out of Carthage, we talked about Samuel Butcher's religious devotion and how, while we are not religious people, we appreciate good works no matter the motivation or inspiration. The Precious Moments Chapel Park describes him everywhere as a devout, charitable family man who built the Chapel as a gift to God (despite there being donation boxes every 10 feet - we are used to this in any roadside attraction). I think there was something about an orphanage in the Philippines built by the company, and many of the murals had tributes to friends and family who have died. It's all just very bland, non-threatening, and generically religious.

You don't find many people who are ambivalent about Precious Moments. You have the dedicated collectors and fans, who usually feel that this art has touched their life in some way, and then you have the people who react to these figurines with a visceral hatred, much like people who have a clown phobia. What is unfortunate is that neither side really understands the other, which is why that fireman above, inspired by the Oklahoma City bombing, is still standing at the Chapel despite the fact that the parents of the dead children were horrified and offended by it and the figurine never went to market.

The one thing that was a bit unsettling (setting aside any aesthetic objections to his kitschy, big-eyed dead children) is that while the overall message is religious devotion,  the people running the Chapel these days are a bit too reverential when speaking of him as "Our Artist". When Francis and I had a post-Chapel debriefing session, I called him the Porcelain Pope. Also, there are several references to "when the artist passes", giving the feeling that he is already dead and gone. That got me Googling.

Poking around the internet for more of the story, it seems that Samuel Butcher has struggled with bipolar disorder and alcoholism, and I was not surprised to hear that Precious Moments Chapel came to be when "The Lord" spoke to Samuel and told him to rent a car and drive around until he found just the right land for his "gift to God" - the Precious Moments Chapel Park. I've been reading about unusual roadside attractions for a very long time, and the most eccentric creations are usually a message from "The Lord".

Over the years he has suffered a stroke from "self medicating", his children have assumed control of the company, and Sam B. is spending his days at his resort in the Philippines, where it is Christmas year round. It's an unsettling shrine to dysfunction if you  look too closely, so let's not. Let's just look at the art.

Touching tribute or weird and creepy? Many of these "angels" were real people. About half of them were adults when they died. The main mural in the middle even has a group of child soldiers, as a tribute to our military. There's an entire wing of the chapel dedicated to Sam Butcher's son, who died in a car accident at age 27, but forever prepubescent at the Precious Moments Chapel Park.

I will admit it, I found this series of Creation murals to be pretty witty. You'll notice "Let there be light," is angels with flashlights, and creating the heavens is angels playing basketball. On one of the upper rows in the Chapel is a series of 15 paintings that Sam Butcher scheduled himself a month to paint, and ended up being so "inspired" he painted all 15 in four days.

While the tour spends the most time talking about the paintings in the main hall of the chapel, the stained glass windows were what I found most impressive. This is only a few of them.

I know it's hard for some of you to believe, but if you are in the area of Carthage/Joplin, the Precious Moments Chapel is worth visiting, even if you giggle all the way through. You'll never see anything like this anywhere else. I leave you with Sam Butcher's message from "The Lord" that he find a property with a cave.

Precious Moments Chapel Park is located at 4321 S Chapel Rd in Carthage, MO, just off I-44. So now that we made good on our 1,000 fans pledge, what should we do at 2,000 fans? Now taking suggestions!


  1. I get some strange feelings of revulsion when I look over these pictures. I am a regular churchgoer, so I can appreciate the theme. I've always hated Precious Moments, though. I'm also pretty sure my 7 yo daugther would also find the whole thing sickeningly sweet and annoying. I'm so proud of her.

    1. While I share your feelings of revulsion, I do have to say in all fairness that I wish we had better photos of the side walls of the chapel. There are several bible story series on those walls that are actually really, dare I say it, cute.

  2. I'm really disappointed you didn't get a picture of Cubby Bear or Tiny Elvis.

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  4. I recently went to the Precious Moments Chapel after not having been there since the 90s. There weren’t many people there (it was a Wednesday), but I still felt it was very sweet. No revulsion here, but maybe a little sadness. Mr. Bucher’s memorials are not really much different than a cemetery. I was glad to here his story again, but sad that while he brought joy to many people, he could not avoid troubles in his own life. I was still glad I went. It’s definitely worth a visit.

  5. I don’t love the idea of the Chapel. It’s a bit much unless you are a fan of precious moments. If you’re a fan, it’s quite wonderful. I don’t understand being revulsed by it though. Precious moments figures seem to portray people with a childlike innocence they may still carry in their hearts even as adults doing very brave and sometimes hard things… it’s cutesy but I’m not sure why anyone would be revulsed by it. That’s kind of harsh. Also, So many people are called artists… why not Sam? I’m not a big fan but this whole article and comments seem to be biased with an intent to make Butcher laughable and almost creepy. It would have sufficed to say if you’re a fan of Sam’s art, go see the chapel otherwise skip.

  6. As a Carthage native and former employee of The Chapel,i must say that Sam was trying to do good.No harm.Pretty impressive,the amount of work that went into it.