The Gospel at Midway Airport
“Good morning. May I have your attention please.” Tom Johnston, a Midway Airport Chaplin announces over the intercom. “A Christian thirty minute non-denominational worship service will begin at 10:00 a.m. in the airport chapel on the mezzanine level of concourse C. Everyone with a face mask for face covering is welcome to attend. Thank you.”
Hearing the announcement when waiting for a connecting flight, passengers Teresa and Dave arrive at the Chapel and sit in the first row. They are traveling from Manistee, Michigan, through Midway, on their way to Florida. David is retired Coast Guard, and Susan is in a wheelchair that David lovingly ‘drives’ for her. They both are regular attenders of a Baptist church in their hometown.
Josh, another chapel attender, is a traveler headed back home. He enters the chapel just before the service is to begin. As a retired police officer, he seems like a calm person, however, has symptoms of PTSD. His home church is Central Christian in Las Vegas.
All chapel visitors seem to have deep and humble reasons to attend the service.
The day is Monday, December 7, 2020, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and of course, during the worldwide pandemic. Both times in history seem to bring on a greater meaning to the morning’s worship and maybe even a greater bond for each attending the service.
Chaplain Tom begins the service with a warm and welcoming prelude that leads to, according to the worship bulletin, Personal Preparation. This is a time, the chaplain explains, to prepare hearts for the worship of God, the Creator of all things, and Jesus, the Savior.
As the service continues, Chaplain Tom asks for each worshipper to tell a bit about themselves. Tom shares a story about his brother who is a drummer. It was clear that Chaplain Tom welcomes all and that Christ brings all together in his infinite love.
The Midway Airport Chapel service is part of The Moody Church Skyword Ministries. From the Moody website: moodychurch.org/skyword-ministries “Skyword Ministries is the only authorized Christian Protestant chaplaincy privileged to serve the Chicago O’Hare and Midway airport communities. Our volunteer Chaplain team of approximately 30 chaplains
conducts multiple chapel services every Sunday and on Christian holidays at both airports. Dr. Hutz H. Hertzberg serves as the Senior Protestant Chaplain and gives overall leadership to this ministry. The Moody Church serves as the officially recognized sponsoring judicatory for the Protestant chapel ministry at O’Hare and Midway. Skyword Ministries is the incorporated name of this ministry and is a recognized 501(c)3 organization.
God has wonderfully touched the lives of a multitude of passengers, airport employees and visitors for over five decades through the airport chapels. But there is much more to be done – we invite you to participate and partner with us! (Hutz H. Hertzburg)
“Skyword Ministries supports chaplains offering weekly chapel services at both Midway and O’Hare airports. Dr. Hurtzburg is a 1979 graduate of Wheaton College. Tom Johnston is a 1977 Wheaton College graduate and serves as the primary Chaplain at Midway Airport.
Services are held at Midway Chapel Monday through Friday at Concourse C, Mezzanine Level, at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m, and on Sundays, 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. At O'Hare Airport, the Chapel is in Terminal 2, Mezzanine Level, with services held Sundays at 10 a.m. and noon.”
During the middle of the chapel service, Tom asks each attender who they would like prayers said for and why. Teresa and David ask prayers for their daughter, who is compromised with asthma,
and at age 39, has had five heart attacks and nine strokes. Josh asks for his family’s good health during the Christmas season and the pandemic.
Then Chaplain Tom leads the singing of the song, How Great Though Art, verses 1 and 2. Prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, are said. The Scripture reading leads to a message that we are all sinners, and we are all in need of deep humility. The benediction ends the service.
After the service, there is long, warm conversation between all. Each worshipper is given a Crossway ESV travel Bible.
As a first-time attender of the Midway Airport chapel service, I was deeply moved by the gospel-centered worship it was. It simply was a full church service. Chaplain Tom gives to his worshipers he has just met, well spoken, heartfelt prayers centered on what they had asked for.
Through the years of his serving as a Midway’s chaplain, Tom has had a wide variety of chapel attenders including people with significant pain in their lives like addictions, loss of jobs, divorce and suicide. For each, he has prayed. Tom shared that people are openly willing to share their prayer needs even though most are strangers to each other.
After the chapel service, Tom and I chatted about his Midway Airport ministry. He told me of the connections he has with many of the airport’s workers, especially the first responders. As an example, the chapel is located adjacent to a Chicago Police Department locker area. When I visited, I saw Tom greet, by their names, each police officer we met. It was apparent to me that Chaplain Tom loves his work, and those he connects with at the airport during the day love him.
As far as his chapel ministry, Tom said about 25 people, on average, are now attending the services each week. He said that even though there are significantly fewer travelers during the pandemic, the attendance in the chapel seems to be greater. Sometimes Tom has only one chapel visitor for a service. He said one is sometimes a challenge, however, most often a rich experience.
Tom shared one story of a person traveling to Las Vegas who essentially wanted pre-visit forgiveness for the not-so-nice things he expected to do on his trip. Chaplain Tom said he did not provide what the traveler requested. Instead, he told him the best path for the traveler was giving up the sin and living a life for the Lord.
Both the Midway and O’Hare airport chapels minister to airport workers like pilots, flight attendants, TSA agents and mechanics as well as the air travelers themselves. Chapel attenders include Christians as well as those practicing another faith or those not practicing any faith at all. Passengers are usually one-time attenders, and some airport employees will attend more than once.
For all attenders, both airport chapels are a place Bible teaching is clearly followed in the worship services. It is a truly a place where the gospel is taught.
At College Church, Tom is a member and one of the church’s supported evangelists.
As a long time, well-over-a-million-mile air traveler myself, the Skyword Ministries Chicago area chapels are a gospel-centered blessing for those flying, and those who work at the airport. I have worshipped at the O’Hare Chapel, and now, at the Midway Chapel. If you are traveling, and have some between flight times, I recommend visiting the chapel for the services or just visiting to offer prayers.
At the end of my visit to Chaplain Tom and his service, Kathy, a smiling, long-time Southwest Airlines flight attendant came up the entry elevator to visit the chapel just to “check it out” for the first time. Tom, I and Kathy chatted for a few moments about her home church, air travel during the pandemic, the Midway Chapel and her job as a flight attendant. At the end of our conversation, Kathy said: “This is just what I needed today!”
About the Author | John Melby
College Church member John Melby is equally comfortable sitting at his computer writing or staying busy with his home remodeling and repair business.