Trading saddlebags for bucket seats.
By Workamper Chaplain Robert N. Ruesch
In former times, pastors rode by saddleback from one church to another and were called circuit rider preachers; the lifestyle was lonely and difficult. The preachers or saddlebag pastors traveled with scarcely any possessions, carrying only what could fit in their saddlebags. These preachers traveled through the United States’ uncharted wilderness to preach at gatherings, speaking almost every day at any place available to share God’s word.
Today, the RV Chaplain now travels in an air-conditioned vehicle and lives in a 5th wheel, motor home, or trailer that he, along with his family, takes with him to the RV resort where he will serve as a park resident Chaplain for up to six months.
Village preaching has been exchanged by destination and wayside RV resorts; the resort’s main hall is transformed into the church facility on Sundays. God’s word continues to be preached; now it is studied through the internet, with communication to other chaplains and often refined by the Chaplain’s home church pastor when they talk on the cell phone, Zoom™ or FaceTime™ to share theology and ideas with other Chaplains and resort residents.
“We follow a Workamper model.” States Dr. Bill Artherholt, the board chairman of Christian Resort Ministries. “We work with the RV resort to supply a site for the Chaplain, a space for worship services, Bible studies, and other events. We coordinate all our activities with the resort Activity Director.”
God still calls individuals into His service, the same way He always has done. He touches the individual’s heart. “I never thought I would be doing chaplain work,” states Ed Bevill from Kentucky. “I came to retire and enjoy the winter weather.”
“My wife, Patty, and I were walking down the road at the RV resort we were staying at one night, minding our own business, when the resort chaplain came up and started talking to us. We became friends. We attended the RV church services. The Chaplain suggested that I consider becoming a chaplain and preaching in an RV resort.”
For the next year, Ed and the resort chaplain were in contact through phone and email. Then one January, Ed was “volunteered” into service because of an auto accident that the resort chaplain was involved in. “The Chaplain ‘volunteered’ me for a few weeks, which turned into the entire season, and now I am in my tenth season serving as a Chaplain.”
Christian Resort Ministries (CRM) mission motto is: To bring the word of God to those who know and do not know Him. (www.crmintl.org)
Since the creation of CRM in a San Antonio hotel lobby in 2002, the ministry has grown from two chaplains to over 40 chaplains in many the United States, summer and winter.
“People believe we think out of the box with this ministry. I mean, Jesus didn’t write an email to the lepers and ask them to meet Him at the local coffee shop to discuss their medical condition; He went to them, which is what we do,” states Senior Chaplain Bob, CEO of CRM Resort Ministry.
When a Chaplain is placed in a resort, non-denominational Sunday Services are scheduled, including a full menu of other residents’ services. Christian Resort Ministries brings in professional Christian music entertainment for church and concerts. Small group Bible studies are scheduled, often several times a week. Crisis counseling is also available as chaplains are trained in specific areas of emotional support and family concerns and issues; “We work to qualify those who are called through a series of interviews, background checks, and references before placing them in an RV Resort.” States Vicki Troutman, Administrative Coordinator.
RV park managers see the chaplain program’s value in their resorts as they recognize the significance of a non-denominational faith-based program on-site. With a chaplain on the grounds, management can concentrate on managing the park. When a resident goes to the hospital, the RV Chaplain will visit them, see their needs are understood and attended to, sometimes even going shopping for them. The RV Chaplain looks out for the individual necessities, and resort management simply manages, together, they are a team, making the residents’ retirement experience the best that it can be. Owners and managers have also discovered that many seasonal sites and park model rentals are directly credited to the Chaplains’ presence on grounds. This is because of the value of resources Christian Resort Ministries brings to the resort. Park managers have also noticed people traveling through to another destination often decide to stay longer or choose to stay because of the presence of an RV Chaplain, often making the resort their final destination.
Financial support for the Chaplain’s work comes from personal monetary resources and other individuals who help keep the Chaplain in the field. “We are faith-based, just like the early circuit saddlebag preachers, we really are doing the same work, just in modern times,” states Chaplain Jim Gilpin.
If you feel a calling to become an RV chaplain, you can call 210-549-9006 to talk to one of the Regional Directors or go to the website at www.crmintl.org.
Whether it is a Bible study, Sunday service, counseling, or aligning a satellite dish, the RV chaplain is looking to the Heavens for just the proper signal. He serves in a seasonal ministry on earth but has an eternal impact.
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