"Boat Church" Sails on Smith Mountain Lake

Reporter: Parker Slaybaugh

Lynchburg, VA - While most Sunday church goers wake up and put on their Sunday best, one area congregation gasses up their boats, jet skis, and ATV's to attend "Boat Church" on Smith Mountain Lake in Penhook.

Not only are the attendees floating in a boat, the pastor also preaches from a floating chapel. Pastor Kendell Smith's pulpit is on the Bill Bowling Memorial Chapel, or also known as the floating chapel, at the Arrowhead Campground on Smith Mountain Lake.

For more than 40 years families have made it a Sunday tradition to float, ski, and swim all while attending Boat Church.

"This is our floating chapel and we preach from that," said Smith as he was pointing at the floating chapel.

Smith is the pastor at Sandy Level Baptist Church in Sandy Level Virginia, but from May to September he trades the solid ground of his church building, for water and a floating pulpit on Smith Mountain Lake.

"To me it's a platform and opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be able to minister to people," said Smith.

Much like the pulpit, those in attendance also float. Despite the lack of four church walls, the meaning is still the same.

"The boats start idling down as they round the point out there and they idle in here, drop anchor, pretty solemn and respectful," said Jeb Bassett who has dropped anchor at "Boat Church," with his wife Diane, for more than 20 years.

"It's a tradition we start out on Sunday morning and we come to "Boat Church" and it makes it real peaceful and serene for us to start out our day," said Diane Bassett.

The Bassett's aren't alone. More than a 120 people attended the service by boat and others by land.

Angela Wilmoth owns the camp ground where the floating chapel is docked. She and boyfriend, Glenn Ulman, drive their ATV to the rocky edge of Smith Mountain Lake to hear the gospel.

"It's really convenient. You don't have to get dressed up to go to church, just come out here receive the word of God and if it's hot take a dip in the water," said Ulman.

After the music fades, and the sermon is over, a sense of community can be felt as every boat lines up to shake the preacher's hand and drop their tithes and offerings in a fishing net.

Pastor Kendell does say that rain or shine "Boat Church" is never canceled. If you are coming by boat Ulman says they are across from Water's Edge Country Club.

If you would like more information on service times and how you can attend you can visit their web site.