By Victor Herrera
On Sundays, the volunteers arrive early at the Tucson VA. They are busy preparing for the first religious service of the day. It’s a Protestant worship, and they go about transforming the Rose Garden Conference Room into a reflective space for inpatients.
The transformation of the conference room into a place of worship is one the biggest tasks the volunteers have. Their role in rearranging the room goes a long way in changing the atmosphere inside the conference room.
“We (the volunteers) can create an ambiance of worship and make it a holy space,” said Chaplain Melvin Brinkley “They (the volunteers) set up and they break it down afterword’s, and I don’t have to fool with it. I just show up and do the sermon.”
Brinkley says that the religious accouterments the volunteers set up give the conference room a special feeling that can’t be replicated anywhere else on the Tucson VA campus.
The volunteers don’t only support the Protestant service; they also help set up the Roman Catholic Mass as well by adding kneelers, statues, and stands.
“What we do on Sunday is supported incredibly by the volunteers,” Brinkley said.
Usually on Sunday morning’s, the Chaplains are busy and can’t get Veterans to the services themselves. Consequently, without the work of the volunteers many of the Veterans wouldn’t have the ability or the opportunity to attend Sunday services.
“We go to the Veteran’s room and see if any of them are interested in coming down to chapel service,” says Fred Lohman, Chaplain service volunteer.
Brinkley says that volunteers have been serving long before his arrival at the Tucson VA and that the main pool of volunteers is from a masonic lodge in the Tucson area.
“They do this as a public service, and they’re associated with the Veterans in some kind of way,” Brinkley said.
Brinkley says that all the chaplain volunteers have a shared common denominator, a heart for serving Veterans.
“They understand that Veterans have a particular world view and sensibility,” he said.
Without the help of the volunteers Brinkley believes that the religious services at the Tucson VA would be very different.
“It would not have the (any) appeal, it would be very simplistic and we wouldn’t have any of the outreach,” he said.
After the service, the volunteers provide coffee and doughnuts in the patio outside the chapel room for those in attendance to enjoy.
At the end of both Protestant service and Catholic Mass, the volunteers clean and rearrange the conference room and will take Veterans back to their rooms in the hospital.
Bob Conrad says that his work as a volunteer is something that needs to be done.
“It’s a thing that needs doing and I enjoy doing,” he said. “I enjoy working with the Vets and I enjoy this environment; I enjoy the people here… its very satisfying.”
Many of the volunteers have been serving for several years and will continue to do so for if they are able. But Brinkley fears that he is losing a special generation and the chaplains will soon need additional volunteers that are willing to serve Veterans.
“In a lot of ways, they are better Christians than I am… they are doing this out of the goodness of their heats.” Brinkley said. “I think they should all be Saints.”
For Brinkley, the chapel services would be very different without the volunteers and he is very happy for their help.
“Without them (the volunteers) it (the worship services) would be a pale representation of what we would be able to provide to the Veterans,” he said.
For more information on volunteering at the Tucson VA, please contact our Volunteer Services office at (520) 629-1822 to find out how you can serve Veterans.
Source: Southern Arizona VA Health Care System Public Affairs