Some 6 million professional truck drivers in the United States are on the road for up to three weeks at a time. Like everyone else, they get lonely, feel job-related stress and are especially vulnerable to worldly persuasions.
Although these people may crave the benefits regular church services can bring them, their careers make it virtually impossible for them to attend.Enter Glenn Cope, a 32-year veteran trucker from Dayton, Ohio. After committing his life to Christian living eight years ago, Cope created Truckers' Christian Chapel Ministries - an outreach ministry catering church services to on-the-road types, seven days a week.
"The trucker is a person who's been overlooked for a number of years. Those who want to be in church find it difficult to go," Cope said. The chapels, he said are "good for those looking for spiritual involvement."
According to Cope, truck stop ministries are a growing phenomenon. An estimated 150 or more - mobile and stationary - now exist in the United States. In addition to Cope's outreach, Truckstop Ministries, based in Atlanta, and Transport For Christ International, based in Pennsylvania, offer worship and counseling to truckers.
There are two truck stop ministries in metro Salt Lake City. Both have ties to Trucker's Christian, which provides a Southern Baptist interpretation of the scriptures, but the services are decidedly non-denominational.
One of them, Sapp Brothers Truck Stop on I-15, has been offering ministries in one incarnation or another since 1971. Chapel is available three times a week, on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sunday mornings.
"Bill Sapp was a very devout Christian. He wanted to take the Sabbath off but knew he couldn't, running a truck stop," said Ron Brown, Sapp's general manager. "He thought the next best thing would be making the church services available at the truck stop."
Brown said Sapp's chapel, a room on the second floor of the truck stop's south end building, is "kind of an outlet" for professional drivers.
"There are a lot of good, religious people out there who are truck drivers. (The chapel is) a good opportunity for people who aren't available for church on Sunday," Brown said.
Tom and Linda Rowe have been hosting services at the Sapp Brothers truck stop for the past four months. Tom is a lay chaplain and Linda is music coordinator for the services.
Linda said she and her husband set up chairs, Bibles and hymnals for 15 guests. On average, they attract four or five truck-driving worshippers. Wednesday night services tend to be the least popular, she said, although some Sundays no one shows.
"This is a call from God to do this," Linda said, explaining that neither she nor her husband accepts compensation for their work. "We're not concerned with numbers. God brings whoever he feels needs to hear the message. If we went according to numbers, we would have been discouraged a long time ago."
Chaplain Steve Fox, also a lay minister, admits he "really would" like to see more truckers participate in the chapel he hosts at Salt Lake 76 Auto Truck Plaza in Tooele, though. Fox, who's also a professional trucker, has been conducting truck stop services for nearly a year. His Sunday services usually average five trucker-worshippers.
"Being a truck driver, I know what the lifestyle is like. You get lonely, (are solicited for) prostitution and drugs and have to deal with appointments that are sometimes impossible to meet," Fox said. "Drivers have a real rough lifestyle. I sympathize with that. I just wanted to . . . share the comfort in my life with others."
Truck stops invite area drivers to worship services by making announcements over their public address systems. Citzens band radios are effective in some areas, but in others - like Tooele - mountain-range interference limits the broadcast range.
Linda Rowe said she and her husband approach truckers in their semis and offer a personal invitation, along with gospel cassette tapes and religious tracts. All materials are provided free of charge - by Truckers Christian - to the interested. The services last 45 minutes or so.
"Most of (the truckers) are already believers and they're real appreciative of what we do," Fox said. "It's real difficult to take a truck to church."