Deacons who serve on the fly

Some are doing it at airports, and St. Louis Today recently looked at a thriving ministry at the local international airport:

The young soldier was sitting by herself in the airport terminal sobbing.

George Miller, a deacon at the chapel at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, said he walked over, introduced himself and stayed with her for about half an hour.

“She was thinking she made a drastic mistake joining the Army,” he said recalling the incident. “I just sat with her and talked to her and let her know that she could turn to God for some help and strength.”

Like many of the people the airport chaplains encounter, Miller never saw or heard from her again.

The Interfaith Chapel, which has been at Lambert for more than 20 years, provides counseling, a daily Catholic Mass and a place for worshipers of all religions to pray. Attendance increases around Christmas but officials don’t keep track.

At a recent noon Mass, pilot Laura Johnson had just arrived from Dallas and rushed over before her flight to Pittsburgh.

“My life is so hectic, I can’t always make it on Sunday, so I try to make it up wherever I can,” she said.

Passenger Molly Coffey-Scalley stopped by before catching her flight back to Ireland. She takes communion daily, but when she’s traveling it’s not always possible.

“I saw information about the service on one of the terminal screens, and I had time,” she said. “I figure this can serve as my Viaticum (last rites) in case the plane goes down.”…

…When the chaplaincy began in 1985, only two members of any one faith were allowed to be involved, but over the years, many have dropped out, and the staff now is entirely Christian — five Catholic priests, eight Catholic deacons and two Protestant ministers.

The chapel is still considered interfaith, though, and is open all day every day to anyone who wants to pray. The staff provides Jewish prayer books, and for members of the Islamic faith, a prayer rug, the Quran and a chart with an arrow facing toward Mecca.

The Rev. Gene Brennan, one of the Catholic priests who celebrates Mass regularly, said sometimes no one attends, but usually between four and 10 worshippers show up. The chapel can hold about 60 people….

…On a recent weekday, Deacon Joseph Sulze arrived at Terminal 2 just before 10 a.m. to provide communion to travelers and then headed over to Terminal 1, where he set up eucharistic adoration from 11 to noon. Several people already were kneeling in the sanctuary, which has cherry wood paneling on two sides and stained glass along the rear wall.

Sulze placed candles, an advent wreath, a crucifix and several statues of Jesus. He plugged in a CD playing monastic chants. The symbols are brought out for the Mass and put away afterward so as not to offend people of other faiths. Similarly, the sanctuary is not decorated for Christmas.

Read more.

Photos by Erik M. Lunsford

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4 responses to “Deacons who serve on the fly”

  1. I do fly a fair amount but have never been through St. Louis/Lambert. Cleveland-Hopkins, Greater-Cincinnati, and Charlotte have interfaith chapels and I know that Charlotte had a deacon assigned as Port Chaplain there for a long time.

    Good ministry if you can get into it!

  2. What a great service for folks who need/want to spend a little time in prayer or meditation…in between planes.

  3. I rarely fly but at one time I had to go to JFK Airport just about everyday to ship packages. Years ago, before the huge makover of the airport that took place in recent decades their used to be three free standing buildings in the middle of the airport, with their own free parking lot, to accomodate different religious traditions. The Catholic chapel was called Our Lady of the Skies and I used to like to stop in there whenever I could to spend some time in this quiet oasis of prayer at the center of all the frenetic activity going on all about it. Sadly all three buildings were torn down when the roadways were redesigned because there are now access ramps that go right through where those buildings used to be. However you can still find Our Lady of the Skies at JFK. It is now in Terminal 4 on the departure level along with the worship spaces for other faiths. But I will always miss the original chapel where i found so much peace in the midst of some really hectic days.

  4. In an earlier life, I flew cross country several times a month, and would stop in these chapels often. I don’t think I was EVER the only one in there. Interesting, I thought.

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