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Airport Ministry Insights: A Conversation with Bishop Hayes at Dallas Fort Worth Airport

Updated: Mar 11

Listen or watch the full episode, podcast episode 151, on your favorite podcast platform.

Airports, known for their hustle and bustle, serve as gateways to various destinations. Each traveler brings a unique story and journey, and within these terminals, a silent but powerful form of service unfolds - airport ministry.

Airport ministry, also known as chapel or chaplaincy services, is a specialized form of Christian ministry that provides unwavering support, spiritual guidance, and assistance to travelers. In this blog post, we'll delve into the world of airport ministry, focusing on the divine work of God through the tireless efforts of Christian chaplains, and the heartwarming stories that transpire in these transportation hubs.

Understanding Airport Ministry

Heavenly Presence Amid Departures

Airport ministry is a unique ministry that operates within airports, offering spiritual support and emotional comfort to travelers from various walks of life. This ministry seeks to connect with people during their journeys, providing a reassuring presence and a space for reflection amidst the chaos and stress of travel.

The roots of airport ministry trace back to the early days of air travel when chapels were established within airports to cater to the spiritual needs of travelers. Over time, these chapels have transformed into vibrant centers for Christian outreach and support.

cozy chapel in airport with planes outside

A Conversation with Bishop Hayes

Experiences from a Dedicated Airport Chaplain

To gain deeper insights into airport ministry, we had the privilege of speaking with Bishop Hayes, a seasoned airport chaplain with over 25 years of service at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport, one of the world's busiest airports. Bishop Hayes, shared his experiences and emphasized the importance of being a conduit for God's love. Airport ministry, in his view, is about meeting people where they are, offering compassion and care to those in need.

Bishop Hayes: "Well, as you stated earlier, I'm retired from the United States Air Force, and I served as a contract chaplain in the military. And when I retired from the military, the chaplain at DFW was my former chaplain in the Air Force. So he invited me to come out and volunteer, and I fell in love with the ministry and love with the people here. And then God bless him five years later to be chosen as a senior chaplain. So it was a connection from another chaplain that got me connected to the ministry. "

Sarah: What got you interested in the Air Force? And I guess just airport flying in general?

Bishop Hayes: "Well, I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, and there weren't too many opportunities left there after you got out of high school if you didn't go to college. I planned to go to college but was not able to go because of financial difficulties. So I joined the military. I joined the Air Force and had not planned to stay for 20 years. But time went by so fast, and I enjoyed the camaraderie. Again, I wasn't an officer in the military; I was enlisted, but it allowed me to work as a contract chaplain for the chapel services. And that's how I got more involved in chaplaincy and ministry. And like I said, it all tied into my getting to be the airport chaplain at DFW. "

Sarah: That's really cool how God kind of lined up all those things for you to be where you're at now.

The Divine Reach of Airport Ministry

How Airport Ministry Began

Sarah: So can you share a little bit about the history of airport ministry? I feel like that's something that not a lot of people talk about very often.

Bishop Hayes: The [DFW] airport was opened in 1973, and it was already in the mindset of the airport fathers, if you will, to have a chaplain in the airport. Imagine having 67,000 people who work here—so many million—40, 50 million people flying through on a daily basis. It's like having a small city, but no church.

Bishop compared the airport to a small city with their own jail cell, post office, zip code, and it's own church!

Bishop Hayes: It [DFW Airport Ministry] was established in 1977, 501 C-3, and we have several single chaplains that have served, but it's been an ongoing ministry and a very powerful one here at DFW.

What Airport Ministry Looks Like Today

Sarah: What are some of the things that you do or the services that you offer with your ministry?

Bishop Hayes: Well, as a chaplain, we provide pastoral care. Like I said, we are the pastors of airport also. We also do weddings. I even did one baby dedication here. But our job is to be a pastoral administrator to those folks that are here. And like I said, it's a big program, one of the largest in the world. Several years ago, I was having a small congregation of my church. It's very small. After I left the military, I was complaining to God why my church is so small. And now I'm serving at an airport!

Sarah: Do you offer worship services at the airport as well?

Bishop Hayes: Worship services? We have Christian, we have Islamic services, we have Anakin churches and Catholic. So really just a montage of service that we have to meet the needs of the people. Special occasion. We have press services, we have Easter services, good Friday services the most here. They do Jummah prayer every Friday [Muslim prayer]. So God has blessed us to have a ministry that reaches everybody. Even though you may not be on the same page, religiously, theologically, I get to the minister to the people and help them to navigate through DFW.

airport chaplain praying with distressed traveler

Christian Faith Beyond Airport Boundaries

While airport ministry may be based in specific locations, its impact transcends geographic borders.

Sarah: Do you find that a lot of people know about your ministry or the ministry in other airports? Or is that kind of one of those tucked away secrets?

Bishop Hayes: Well, we don't want to be secret. Sometimes, when I say that there is a chaplaincy, they wonder what we need a chaplaincy for. I explain to them that, for many people, this is their home away from home. We try to get the word out, and we try to advertise as much as possible. A lot of churches are trying to get involved. We try to join organizations of churches and let them know we are here in the different churches and larger churches.

And also, there are airports around the world.

So I belong to an association called the International Aviation of Civil Airport Chaplains. So it is a big organization. Our president is European; he's in Europe right now, and we travel every year to different airports to see what they have to offer and just get to see what the environment is because it's always different in different areas. So we are part of a bigger picture of International IAC is the acronym for that, and we just travel, and as a matter of fact, this year we'll be at London Heathrow Airport.

Sarah: That's really cool. Do you know how many chaplains there are at IACC?

Bishop Hayes: Well, the numbers keep changing, but in Europe, there's several chaplaincies all around the world. I've been to Budapest, Switzerland, and all those airports around Europe. In the United States, we have about, I guess, ten chapters even.It's us in Houston,  New York, Washington, Phoenix, and a few other places. But off the top of my head, how many aid ministries did we have? I don't know, but it's probably 30 or 40.

Sarah: Wow, that's really cool and amazing that travelers get to have that experience and that you guys get to minister to them. What is one thing that you wish people knew about airport ministry?

Bishop Hayes: I wish they knew the importance of the airport chaplaincy. We are not just ministers, or just the people in the airport facility, because it's international ministry. I mean, we got travelers from around the world, all around the world. And so this takes me back to what Matthew says in chapter 28: going into our nation and preaching the gospel.

So we reach all nations here—all nations, all creeds, all colors, all different religious denominations.

I found out when I first came to chapel, and I asked one question to the chairman: What is interfaith? Does interfaith mean I have to compromise who I am as a Christian? If so, I don't want the job. So interfaith basically means my job is to interface people with their religious background. If I see a Jew who needs to speak with a rabbi, I can grab him. I can grab an Imam for a Muslim. I can grab a Catholic priest. So my interface means I'm making sure people get their needs met wherever they feel comfortable. And then I feel like, as a chaplain, you've got to be able to communicate with people. I have chaplains of different beliefs because most of them are on my chaplaincy board. And sometimes we talk about religious belief, but not a whole lot. What we're trying to do is see how many of our likes we have in common, not our dislikes. The main thing here is helping people. It doesn't matter where they come from or their background. Our job is to meet people wherever they are.

God At Work in Airport Ministry

Embracing God's Work in a Diverse World

One of the remarkable facets of airport ministry is its embrace of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and faiths. Airports are melting pots of humanity, and chaplains are guided by a Christian perspective in respecting and catering to this diversity.

Sarah : What has been one of the biggest blessings or maybe a memorable experience serving in this role?

Bishop Hayes: Well, one of the most memorable experiences was when I met a lady who worked at the Vatican several years ago, or many years ago, and I just spoke to her. As you know, I would love to have a visit with the Pope. Just chatter, if you will. And so about ten years later, I got a letter from her saying that you got an audience to meet Pope Benedict in June 2013. I said, What? So I was excited about that because I'm not Catholic, but just to be able to be honored to go to Rome and meet the Pope was quite an honor. Well, Pope Benedict resigned in February of that same year, so I said, Well, there goes my trip to the Vatican. Then in April, I got a call from the adjunct general in Rome, who said, Mr. Hayes, you still want to come to see the Pope, but you'll be seeing Pope Francis. Pope Francis just got into the office. And it was amazing. When I went to Rome, I kept some folks with my wife and a few other folks, and we had a chance to go to St. Peter's Square and see other masses with people. And some Catholic friends of mine gave me some ornaments to be blessed by the Pope. So I took it to the Pope. I took it to the Pope. And instead of his blessing, he put it back in my hand, put his hand over my hand, and we prayed together. It was an awesome time, sir. One of the highlights of my ministry and the second highlight was when I had a chance to travel with Paul the Apostle. I went to Greece and seven cities where Paul went on missionary journeys. I was able to go to all of those. Phillipi, Ephasis—it was just amazing. Those are two highlights of my ministry. Just being a part of something grand like that was great.

Sarah: I'm guessing meeting so many travelers in an airport, you get to hear a lot of amazing stories but also get to share yours quite frequently too.

Bishop Hayes: Definitely. That's the main thing because our logo for chaplaincy, so it's pretty noticeable. We got a wing, then we got a guy kneeling in prayer. So it gives us a chance to miss a lot of people and people just sometimes. I just got a lady just came off a while ago. She's trying to get a ride to a military base. And so we get called for everything. But the main basis of what we do here is the science. Just finishing and doing religious organization. We are also a part of the emergency management team. Crash or trauma or some kind of traumatic event. Most of my childhood been trained in critical care. We are part of the airport emergency management team. So any time comes up, they need a champion there. And it's just amazing to be a part of something big then you have and we are vital part of DFW Airport. So that's what I like about it. The executive team really looked up to us. I pray for every board meeting every month with all the Fort Worth in Dallas and all the big wigs, if you say, but we have a chance to minister in so many different ways.

Sarah : Yeah, that's awesome because not only do you get to connect with the travelers on their way, but then, as you said, the staff and the community that is there every single day. So that's cool.

Bishop Hayes: I think it's important because we meet passions. I was met a lady from India one day and she said to me, oh, you did chat? Oh, we can't talk. We don't have nothing to talk about. Well, not different with you. We don't have nothing. Let me ask you three questions.

  1. The first question I'm going to ask you is when you guys have a baby, how do you guys find always happy? We have a party. I said we do too.

  2. Number two, when somebody died in your family, were sad? We're sad. I said we do too.

  3. And then I say, what color is your blood? She said, red. I said, mine is red too.

I was able to show her we have more things in common than we have not in common. So our job is to tie people in, even though it's not all about preaching, not going to allow you to bang the message, but sometimes the message is in your actions and you're showing your love that Jesus is there for one another. We show love that everybody came in contact with.

So that's our first step is showing love. The second message, we try to make sure they find out where they are religiously or spiritually and then we try to meet that need.

Sarah: I think we also get hung up on the differences more than the commonalities. What advice would you have for a traveler to share their faith or just open up some of those conversations with others?

Bishop Hayes: I found out that if we're just sensitive to people's needs at the airport, it's not about my needs, not about what I want. I mean, if you're an evangelist, I got some people very evangelical, which is fine, I got to run that. But you're trying to preach to somebody who's hurting. They're not going to hear you. You've got to meet the need first where they are, meet their need where they are, and then they can hear you. Now, as a chaplain, they know we are spiritual advisors, so that doesn't take away from who we are. Why would they call us on the scene if they don't want our services? So we make sure we just use wisdom when it comes to dealing with people.

Ways to Support God's Work in Airport Ministry

Extending God's Hand of Love

If you feel called to support airport ministry and witness God's work in action, there are various ways to get involved and make a difference through your Christian faith.

  • Volunteer: Many airport ministries welcome Christian volunteers to assist chaplains in their work. Volunteering is a hands-on way to be a source of comfort to travelers.

  • Financial Support: Financial contributions to airport ministries can significantly aid their operations and outreach. Even a small donation can make a significant impact in advancing God's work.

  • Spreading the Word: Share the stories and experiences of airport chaplains with your Christian network. Raising awareness about this unique form of Christian ministry can help garner more Christian support.

  • Christian Fellowship: Embrace the values of Christian fellowship in your own life, fostering understanding, empathy, and outreach, which are at the core of airport ministry.

By getting involved or supporting these Christian initiatives, you can play a part in extending the reach and impact of God's work in airport ministry.

The Ministry that Soars Above the Skies

Airport ministry may not always be in the spotlight, but its impact is profound. It's about extending God's hand of love, offering Christian compassion, and a moment of solace to travelers who often find themselves in a whirlwind of emotions and circumstances.

Bishop Hayes: Bishop Hayes: I'd like to say that the airport ministry is very valuable. Not only does it look like the airport, but many things that happen around the world are centered around the airport chaplain. Several years ago, they had a church shooting. Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas And I just came on as a senior chaplain and had no idea I'd be involved because the parents of one of the parishioners that got killed were in England. So they came to my airport. So I ministered to those folks. I mentored. A young man got killed when he fell off a bridge. As a young student, I think it was open in Mexico, where I had to deal with the parents. So sometimes major situations in the world are affected. When they had to shoot in Columbine, Colorado, I had a chaplain that was at the airport that night. Folks over here had to go back home. He got on the plane to be with all the folks going back to Colorado. There were so many hurricanes. My chaplain was sent to Louisiana to help out. So our chapel is just not based on what we do in this airport ministry. We are a worldwide, international ministry.

Listen or watch the full episode, podcast episode 151, on your favorite podcast platform.


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