SBTC seeks to develop volunteer chaplaincy network

Chaplains needed to fill gap left by defunding

of chaplains in some organizations.TC Melton, SBTC area coordinator

What could be better than watching your favorite driver race around the track at Texas Motor Speedway, with the fumes from burning rubber filling your nostrils and the roar of car engines blasting your eardrums?

Sam Montgomery can think of a few things.

He and his wife frequently spend time at the speedway north of Fort Worth, but not in the stands or on a pit crew. Montgomery works with Race Play Ministries, an outreach stationed behind the stands at Texas Motor Speedway that works with those in and out of the driver’s seat.

If efforts of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention are fruitful, more volunteers will be dispatched to serve in ministries like the Montgomerys’ and in traditional venues such as hospitals and governmental organizations.

At the speedway, the Montgomerys conduct Bible studies for 50-60 children at a time, praying with the drivers before they race and handing out numerous Bibles and tracts to passersby. The Montgomerys are involved in a non-traditional chaplaincy, but in places where chaplains have been most used?police and fire departments and prisons, for example?the need sometimes outpaces the availability of volunteers or the funding for paid chaplains.

“Because of financial cutbacks, many vocational chaplains are being eliminated from the payrolls,” said T.C. Melton, formerly the SBTC volunteer chaplaincy consultant and now the SBTC’s West Texas area coordinator. “Our state prison system has cut back on salaried chaplains. Some hospitals, including Baptist hospitals, are letting some chaplains go.”

Consequently, Melton explained, there is an increasing need and urgency for volunteer chaplains to fill the gaps.

At Abilene Regional Medical Center, where Melton has served, volunteer chaplains work to visit every new patient admitted to the hospital, comfort surgery patients before their scheduled operations, and give special attention to long-term patients, especially those with terminal illnesses.

“We are on call for any emergencies where a chaplain would be needed,” Melton said. “We, of course, minister to a lot of family members of patients ? as well as to hospital employees. No two days are alike in a hospital ministry.”

Likewise, there are no two volunteer chaplaincy ministries alike. Between 70?80 percent of the people in Texas have little or no meaningful connection to a church. Melton explained that most Baptist churches take time to care for their own people who are in need, especially the “active” members, but often don’t recognize the needs of people in their community or even their own neighbors.

There are people entering hospitals and prisons who are unchurched and have never received any spiritual or religious guidance. It is common to find a patient or inmate left alone to face the most serious issues, with no one to stand beside them.

Volunteer chaplains often provide the only religious reference point for some people. Many hospital chaplains lead in religious services for special occasions such as the National Day of Prayer, memorial services for hospital personnel who have passed away, and Sunday worship services.

Dwaine Clower, director of missions for the Cross Timbers Baptist Association, utilizes four chaplains in his area. Every one is unique is his ministerial approach; he gathers a team of faithful volunteers who are dedicated to serve in each ministry.

Chaplain George Taff has worked in prison ministry for many years and ministers to adults and youths who have been detained. Taff uses three regular volunteers, and several others in his “Glorified Prison Ministry.”

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