The fourth stop on our tour was Butte, Montana. Just as you shouldn’t play favorites with your kids, I won’t show partiality to any of the cities we brought Skull Church to, but I will say that this event was a spiritual highlight of the tour. I had never set foot in Butte and didn’t know much about it before this fall, but while we were on the road I watched a documentary that PBS produced on the history of the town. It is fascinating and you can watch it on YouTube here.
In case you don’t have an hour to spare, here is the dime version: Butte was a mining boom-town. It was predominantly silver that was mined here until the advent of electricity–when they discovered that the ground was rich with copper that was increasingly in demand–and wires began to be strung from building to building from coast to coast. They could hardly dig the stuff out of the ground fast enough to keep up with the insatiable appetite for it. At one point copper from Butte was used around the nation more than from any other mine.
The population exploded as people from all over the world descended on the city. At one point the “no smoking” signs in the mines had to be printed in 16 different languages because the miners were so culturally diverse. The night life ran to keep up as well. The city was home to a booming red-light district with a brothel that is reportedly America’s “longest running house of prostitution.” At one point Butte was the largest city west of the Mississippi, a place prospering so much it was dubbed, “the richest hill on earth” and referred to as Butte, America. (As opposed to Butte, Montana because it was such a hip, cosmopolitan place)
All that came crashing down when mining was stuttered in 1982. The same year I was born the activity that gave the city its identity dissolved suddenly into thin air. Today Butte is a shadow of what it once was. Where there used to be 100,000 people living here, today the population is a third of that size. It is certainly no ghost town, but the evidence of different days gone by are everywhere you look and they say that it is shrinking faster than any city in the state.
We had the event at the historic and beautiful Motherlode, a theatre with a past as storied as the city itself. As the crowd arrived and I prepared to speak, I felt so much love welling up in my heart from the Lord. Speaking to one of the local pastors I heard that many young people crack that, “happiness is seeing Butte in your rearview mirror.” I felt such a sense of assignment as I preached to tell them that leaving this city might just be what they are supposed to do, but if they leave to fill a hole inside them they will bring their problems with them wherever they go.
I hope the Lord gives us the opportunity to return to Butte and do ministry again soon, because it was such a joy to watch people find something far better than silver or gold in a relationship with Jesus. Regardless of what is or isn’t happening in the city economically, in God’s heart, the glory days for the people who live there are not in the past but are yet to come.
Here is the Skull Church Butte lookbook: