When Vickie Phelps first met her future husband Jim, she knew he was in seminary to become a Methodist pastor, and since she was in school pursuing a degree in Christian education, it felt like the perfect match. He could serve as a church pastor while she served in church education. They could serve the Lord together! But not long into their courtship, Vickie learned that Jim was a second lieutenant in the Army, and he was in seminary to fulfill the necessary requirements to become ordained in the United Methodist Church, with the ultimate goal of becoming an Army Chaplain to pay back the Army for his ROTC college scholarship. And so Vickie started counting the years they would owe the Army once Jim finished his training: “Seven years in and then out. We just knew we would go back to serving in a local civilian church once Jim had fulfilled his commitment.”
Except Jim was particularly well suited for this kind of military-ministry life. His dad, an Army sergeant, had told him that he would do well as a lieutenant so long as he listened to his sergeants! Jim took that advice to heart and prospered. Moreover, he saw the ways that his training in the UMC was a boon in the military: “We United Methodists have wide open arms. We protestant chaplains are trained well in reconciliation; we can baptize and share the sacraments with believers from all denominations; we are much more ecumenical than most; and all of this meant I could be incredibly useful to the soldiers and officers in my care. It meant I could serve God more fully.”
And for her part, Vickie was a natural; military life suited her far better than she could have hoped. From Director of Religious Education for a Post Chapel to Preschool teacher, then director, and several positions of leadership in the Protestant Women of the Chapel, Vickie found myriad ways to serve both the Lord and her fellow military families as they transitioned from post to post. And as Jim was promoted to higher ranks, Vickie noticed that her responsibilities grew, too, as more and more women were turning to her, the Chaplain’s wife, with needs and concerns of their own, both spiritual and otherwise. Their lives were full and fulfilled in this military ministry life—so much so that those 7 years grew to 25 years of active duty and ministry in the military, crossing 3 continents, meeting and serving people from all over the world!
And then, in 2002, it was time to retire. Their son was at Texas A&M and their daughter had settled in San Antonio, so Military City USA was an obvious choice to continue serving the Lord. With so many veteran and active duty families in the area, Jim and Vickie were certain the Lord would put them right where they needed to be. Vickie says that they visited University United Methodist Church on a Wednesday night, and “it was love at first sight. We knew we were home. You could just feel the Spirit in this place and among the people.” Vickie started working on staff as Director of Hospitality. At that time, Jim was a chaplain at the VA hospital in San Antonio, enjoying serving the men and women who had so faithfully served our country.
But in 2003, Jim was offered the opportunity to come on staff at University as a pastor, and “it was a good fit. So many families at University were serving or have served in our military. With my credentials, I could easily get into the military hospitals and visit our veteran or active duty members, which is much more difficult for non-military pastors.” Vickie then joined in on the fun as part of University’s Children’s Ministry staff. I met Vickie because she taught my son, and her grandson, in Vacation Bible School, where I witnessed first hand her beautiful way with children. She is a child-whisperer; her gentle ways began to make such a difference in our elementary children’s ministry.
In 2008, the Phelps decided it was time to retire from paid ministry jobs, but the truth is that serving is in their DNA. They’ve never really stopped. Jim continues to serve in some of the chaplain duties during worship at Blue Skies of Texas, the retirement community where Vickie and Jim moved a few years ago. They also still worship at University and stay very involved in their Hearts on Fire Sunday school class.
For 46 years these two lovebirds have gone wherever the good Lord took them and served whomever He put in front of them. It was not the life they thought it would be when their wedding and Jim’s ordination happened 6 days apart all those years ago, but they would tell you they couldn’t have written it better themselves. “It’s a wonderful life because everywhere we go, the Lord is with us…so our love story keeps on growing.”