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The Holy Spirit of Aviation: Faith and flight intersect at AirVenture

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If heaven is in the sky, flight lifts man closer to God. EAA AirVenture brings hundreds of thousands of flight enthusiasts together every year, but there is a distinctive group within this gathering brought together by faith as well.

Nestled into a serenely wooded spot on the expansive EAA grounds is Fergus Chapel, home to formal worship services during the weekend, as well as a daily gathering entitled, Fellowship of the Wing.

Faith-church“The chapel was the first permanent structure built on the grounds,” says Chapel Chairman Cam Martin. “It’s named in honor of the brother of one of the early chairmen.”

Today, there are 85 EAA chairmen and several thousand volunteers. Martin’s job centers around the historic chapel and scheduling all the services for the week, as well as communicating with other faith-based organizations that wish to be involved in AirVenture.
Before Martin was named EAA Chaplain, he attended AirVenture as a representative from NASA. He felt that his position and the opportunities it provided him were a gift from God.

As he fostered relationships with others at AirVenture, Martin grew close with the man then running the chapel, Ed Riddick. “As I got to know Ed, he saw that the chapel was here all week but it was only used on the one Sunday at the end of the show,” explains Martin. “The idea for having a daily gathering came. It would be a great opportunity for people in aviation to connect over here and to hear from professionals who have something that brings them here.”

Martin (a self-professed J.R.R. Tolkien fan) contributed the name, the list of speakers to feature during the gatherings and a whole lot of enthusiasm. As an AirVenture regular, Martin knew a lot of people that could be guests to share their stories with the people at the chapel. As he explains, “My biggest contribution to Fellowship of the Wing was finding the people who, apart from coming here and talking to us, you would not know are committed Christians and that their faith is very important to them.”

By 2003, Fellowship of the Wing was taking place inside Fergus Chapel every morning of AirVenture. “It started with maybe four people showing up,” says Martin. “But that was fine because it was just donuts and coffee and then everyone would go out into everything else they needed to do in the course of the week.” Today, the fellowship can expect 30-40 worshippers every morning, several songs with musical accompaniment and a different guest speaker each day. Some of the most anticipated speakers this year are Gloria Foat on Friday and Gwen Allen on Saturday. Allen is a United Airlines Pilot, and Foat brings to life famous missionary pilot Betty Greene in her historical lectures.

Faith-interiorMartin has been the EAA Chaplain since 2012, and travels from California to Wisconsin every year to spend the week doing God’s work among people with shared passions. “I am honored by the opportunity. I am delighted to be here,” says Martin. “It is an opportunity to serve my favorite people anywhere on the planet. There is no group of people I would rather be with.”

The “Spirit of Aviation” lives within these people in a special way. A favorite phrase at Fergus Chapel is “the intersection between faith and flight.” How do you capture just what this intersection is, when the intense love of aviation and the intense bond with God are both emotions that must be experienced to be fully appreciated? The fellowship at EAA finds common ground by turning to the sky.

“Every sphere of human activity ends up with a specialized vocabulary,” reflects Martin. “There’s the language of flight and there’s the language that God is communicating in. When you become fluent in both those languages, there are things in aviation that just strike you in a way that they never have before. Aviation is profoundly theocentric. God is at the center of it.”

Despite this group’s specialized interest in both aviation and spirituality, Fergus Chapel happily welcomes all through its doors. “We make a point to make sure everyone knows that airplane is spoken here,” assures Martin. “We are very fluent in airplane.”

In addition to daily 7:15 a.m. meetings of Fellowship of the Wing, Fergus Chapel will host congregations for a Jewish Shabbat Service Friday at 6 p.m., and an 8:30 a.m. Non-Denominational Service Sunday morning followed by the annual Memorial Wall Induction Ceremony at 10 a.m. Catholic Masses also are available at Forum Pavilion 07 Saturday at 6 p.m. and at the Theater In The Woods Sunday at 10:15 a.m., after a Protestant Service at 9:15 a.m. in the same space.

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