Circuit-riding preachers in the 19th century journeyed through uncharted wilderness to spread the gospel in any available setting – family cabins, courthouses, meetinghouses or open fields. They traveled with few possessions, carrying only what would fit in their saddlebags.
As the 21st century heirs to the circuit riders’ mantle, resort ministry chaplains likewise travel light and cover plenty of ground. But they make their journeys in air-conditioned vehicles and live in motorhomes or trailers, moving from one RV park to another. Chaplains sometimes serve a particular location for up to six months before journeying to the next location, offering a seasonal ministry with eternal impact, according to The Baptist Standard.
“I never thought I would be doing chaplain work,” said Ed Bevill of Kentucky, who serves as a chaplain for Winter Texans. “I came to Texas and this resort to retire and enjoy the winter weather of the Rio Grande Valley.”
Bevill lives in Palmdale RV Resort, between Harlingen and Brownsville, where he preaches. He also leads Sunday services at Holiday Out RV Resort, about 5 miles down the road.
Bevill recalled how he and his wife, Patty, were “walking down the road in the RV resort one night, minding our own business, when the chaplain of the resort we were staying at came up and talked to us. We became friends, attended the RV church services and then, he suggested that I consider becoming a chaplain.”
For the next year, Bevill was in contact with the resort chaplain. The next January, he found himself pressed into service.
“The chaplain was supposed to be here for the winter, but an auto accident prevented that happening, so he volunteered me for a few weeks that turned into a season, and now I am in my second season,” he said.
Bevill works as a chaplain with Christian Resort Ministries. Chaplains are assigned to RV resorts seasonally to share the gospel and minister to needs of guests.
“God has a plan for all of us. We either follow it or not. It’s a choice. Yet, when we are in his will and not in his way, things happen – great things happen,” said Dennis Maloney, general director of Christian Resort Ministries.
Many chaplains with Christian Resort Ministries serve as Mission Service Corps volunteers, endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.
Since Christian Resort Ministries’ creation in a San Antonio hotel lobby in 2002, the ministry has grown from two chaplains to more than 30 chaplains in eight states.
“God is responsible for the work we do. We just come alongside him, follow his will and here we go,” Maloney said.
Chaplains Provide Extensive Services
Once a chaplain is placed in a resort, nondenominational Sunday worship services are scheduled, along with a full platform of other services for the residents and the management team.
Chaplains often schedule professional Christian music concerts, and they offer ongoing small-group Bible studies.
They also provide crisis care. Christian Resort Ministries receive Hands on Ministry training, and many also are certified in biblical counseling, critical-incident crisis management and intervention skills.
“The chaplains of CRM are prepared for what we need to do,” said Don Baker, who served as a corporate chaplain before traveling to Arizona to be a chaplain at an RV resort.
Other duties a resort chaplain performs range from serving as master of ceremonies for a local talent show to helping resort guests align satellite TV dishes.
Many RV park managers are supportive of a chaplain program in their resorts as they see the value in the family-friendly, faith-based programs they offer.
“With a chaplain on the grounds, I can manage the park; the chaplain helps with a religious view that brings a wholeness to a situation or question,” one park manager said.
“When I hear someone has gone to the hospital, I know the chaplain will be visiting them. The chaplain will be looking out for the individual needs, as I address resort management issues. We are a great team.”
RV resort chaplains must raise their own support from personal financial resources and reliance on gifts from churches, families and friends, along with some contributions from grateful resort residents and RV park owners.
“We are faith-based, just like the early circuit-riding saddlebag preachers,” Bevill observed. “We really are doing the same work – just in modern times.”