The church throughout the ages has mobilized its clergy and lay chaplains to reach across most conceivable boundaries. In the 1800s and 1900s, circuit riding preachers, traveling tent revivals and even customized railway chapel cars were popular. Today, motorcycle “gang” chaplains ride Harleys down our highways, and converted semitrailers are sacred ground at truck stops with their own traveling staffs. Migrants and many language groups are all addressed in some part, but one well-off group is looking for some local and itinerant help.
Galveston’s RV parks are part-time home to retirees and mobile workers from as far away as Canada, but many are located on the West End of the island, far from most churches.
Family stresses, personal trials and spiritual challenges don’t end when you put your home on wheels, even if you then move often to our island paradise.
An outfit called Christian Resort Ministries, headquartered in San Antonio, is looking for a few good RV couples to train as chaplains to take up such services here.
Robert Ruesch, who is known on the road simply as Chaplain Bob, explained how this all came to be.
“This ministry was formed in a hotel lobby in San Antonio in 2002 when two couples sat down and recognized the growing population of retired individuals and couples who would migrate south in the winter,” he said. “Coupled with the fact that many RV parks and resorts did not have an active chaplain on grounds, much less worship services or Bible studies, we saw a need. Without a chaplain there was a lack of not only spiritual guidance, but no one trained in hospital visitation, home visits and grief counseling.”
Ruesch remembers how he’d been preparing for this all his life.
As a child he had grown up in a summer resort himself and had been called upon to comfort another child of the same age who had lost their father in a tragic and unexpected accident.
“I had to face their question, ‘How do I go home with the same amount of luggage, but not the same amount of family?’” he said.
The ministry believes that over 8,000 folks reach retirement age every day with a large portion of these shifting away from their religious roots, if any.
Already stretched, local clergy might have trouble making time for part-time residents, but an RV chaplain can bloom wherever they are planted. So how do you make one of these?
“The basic requirements for a chaplaincy position starts with a simple chaplain interest form found on our website, www.crmintl.org,” Ruesch said. “Once that is completed, there is a background check and references are contacted. In the fall, we have a conference for training chaplains. Most of them have served or are serving in some position within their home church. Training for chaplains is a yearly event to keep them effective in the ministry. It is all nondenominational in structure, just an understanding of the Holy Bible, and its application to life are discussed.”
It’s not a full-time calling for most. The vast majority of RV owners spend only a few weeks traveling, though a few are full-timers who have sold their “sticks and bricks” housing. That means that the volunteer chaplains also do not need to be full-timers. The ministry is generally most active from November through Easter, freeing up folks to minister in other ways for the rest of the year.”
The cost of long-term park stays may not be an problem, some RV resorts will reduce or eliminate their slot rentals for support personnel like chaplains. They view such services as an added benefit for seasonal residents.
The group’s statistics show their volunteers as having logged some 17,000 miles on hospital visits alone, with over 40,000 people being reached in one of their campground worship services.
The Rev. Lee Tracy is active in this work in the Rio Grande Valley. He said that being a Texas RV chaplain is broadening. Denominational barriers collapse once you’re mixed into a random new community.
“Let me give you a little bit of an idea of what the our boots on the ground approach adds to the winter Texan’s experience,” Tracy said. “They come from all over. As far east as New Jersey, as far west as California and from five Canadian provinces. They come here to the valley, settle into an RV park and become a village for five months. In the park I pastor, we have 28 different denominations, but the park gathers for a nondenominational Sunday service as well as weekly Bible studies.”
Tracy shared more personal stories than our print space will allow, saying, “We do funerals, memorials, and even weddings for residents in the parks as well as grief counseling for those who have lost a loved one.”
Both men said that they were often best friends to many of the residents who no longer had nearby family and permanent neighbors. Most chaplains serve as couples with both spouses taking on the training and responsibilities of their second or third callings. No previous religious training is required.
“The best thing in this ministry is to see God working to bring people to Christ.” Ruesch said. “This year, one chaplain gave the call and challenge at the end of the season to those in church to commit accepting Christ as their savior, twenty people raised their hand in agreement. That is the best thing, the very best thing.”
For details, call 970-420-9525.
Next week in Our Faith: An exclusive interview with the lead singer of Building 429 and the surprising source of this popular band’s name.