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Tragedy 31 years ago formed foundation of new chaplain’s ministry

The staff of First Baptist Church of Portland, TN, surprised Tim Colovos and his wife Ginger, front center, with a fellowship Dec. 30, two weeks after he retired from seven years of pastoring the congregation.

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (BP) – When a paranoid schizophrenic randomly shot into a group of patrons at Stel’s Diner in Warren County, Ky., in 1992, killing William Ratliff, it fell to Tim Colovos to tell two young teenagers their father was dead.

Then and there, as a college student serving as youth pastor of Oakland Baptist Church in Oakland, Ky., Colovos realized an aspect of his spiritual gifting. He describes it as “an urgency to be with people when very difficult times arise.”

Tim Colovos

“From that moment on, I just knew that this was something that perhaps the Lord could use for me for many years. And fortunately I think that He has,” he said. “It’s hard enough to go through life, but when you have a traumatic event, to be able to go through life without people by your side and without hopefully godly wisdom and godly counsel by your side, it’s almost unbearable.”

Three decades later, with a heart still pulsing for the hurting, Colovos heard God calling him from the full-time pastorate to full-time chaplaincy. He transitioned in December from the senior pastorate of First Baptist Church of Portland, Tenn., with a worship attendance of about 300, to full-time chaplaincy at Hospice of Southern Kentucky.

“I love being with grieving people, as strange as that sounds. I’ve just really found that the Lord seems to use me in those situations over the years,” Colovos told Baptist Press. “And so it’s just kind of always been maybe a soft place in my heart where I can try to be my best when somebody else is at their worst. It’s kind of an unfortunate circumstance that happens.”

Colovos describes the move as “a leap of faith.” He sensed God calling him away from First Portland in mid-2022, but said he had no idea of his next assignment.

“I simply communicated to the deacons at First Baptist that I felt the Lord was calling me away, and I don’t have anything lined up. But I just wanted to be transparent and share my heart with them, to let them know,” Colovos said. “In July or August, I had no inkling that God would call me to Hospice of Southern Kentucky. God is just a great orchestrator of our steps. One thing led to another and I’m four weeks in on the job right now.”

Colovos will supplement his chaplaincy work beginning Jan. 29 as bivocational pastor of White Stone Quarry Baptist Church, a Bowling Green congregation of about 50 worshipers.

“I’ve never been a bivocational preacher, but I’m going to do my best to be a pastor to those folks, the best I can,” he said. “Just doing chaplaincy work and hospice, I believe that’s ministry. I know it’s ministry.

“But I love the church. I love the Bride of Christ. And I want to remain in the pulpit. And I want to remain not just a preacher, but a pastor.”

Colovos answered the call to the pastorate in 1987, and sees his current positioning as the continued fulfillment of that calling.

“It is a true statement that we live in a lost and dying world. Typically a chaplain will visit a family and be with a family in moments of grief. And in moments of grief, more times than not, people are what we would call a captive audience,” Colovos said. “So if they are ever going to have a listening ear, it’s going to be during the time that they are meeting with a chaplain.”

Hospice of Southern Kentucky is a non-profit business that serves about 90 clients in a nine-county Kentucky area, regardless of their religious beliefs. It has no religious affiliation.

“Respectfully I will listen to them, but I will still get to share my belief and to offer prayer. Even though I’ve come across already several families that are not religiously affiliated with anyone, nobody has turned down prayer,” he said. “When I pray, I pray in the name of Jesus and I’m thankful (for) what I call this captive audience, that they get to hear about the goodness of God.

“My job is not necessarily to try to make them Southern Baptist. My job is to see to it that they understand what the Word of God says and that the promises of heaven can be for them and their family as well, if in fact they put their trust in the Lord.”

Colovos has continued to minister to the Ratliff family, contacting them on each anniversary of the father’s and husband’s death.

“I’m still extremely close to that family. Every January 17th since then, I reach out to the family. They are just very, very special people to me and I’m thankful to say that they’re doing well,” Colovos said. “The kids are grown and married with families of their own now. And they’re both in church, love the Lord.”

Colovos considers the 1992 event the springboard to his chaplaincy.

“There’s been a lot of situations since then, other traumatic events that people have gone through,” he said. “I’ve buried children before. There’s been homicides, suicide and tragedies. I just have a heart and a desire to be with people in these most difficult times.”