Monday, March 06, 2006


Chaplains in the workplace

Workplace chaplains are no longer the surprising exception, but a benefit welcomed by most employers.

By Joseph Allen
(September 19, 2005)

Twenty years ago, any casual observer who discovered a chaplain working in a corporate office to help employees deal with financial, emotional and familial concerns and other stresses of everyday life would have raised an eyebrow or two.

Fast forward to the present, where workplace chaplains are no longer the surprising exception but a benefit appreciated by most employers who welcome the additional help that chaplains offer with no strings of reciprical faith attached.

“We’ve had chaplains in our workplace for about five years now with strong, positive results,” said David M. Weekley, chairman of the board of David Weekley Homes, a homebuilding company with locations throughout the Southeastern United States. “Chaplains in our workplace have definitely improved morale by helping to create a nurturing environment where employees feel at ease and feel that the company is looking out for the employees’ well-being.”

Weekley’s company is one of many that employs chaplains as part of their staff. The diverse array of small businesses and large companies that have chaplains include Pilgrim’s Pride, a Texas-based poultry processor and the second-largest chicken producer in the United States; McKibbon Hotel Properties, a hotel management company in Georgia that trains its associates in service and leadership; McKinney Aerospace, a service center for large business and private jets; and McLane Pacific, a wholesale distribution center that serves the Western United States.

“The number of chaplains in the workplace is definitely expanding,” said George A. Langhorne, director of Chaplaincy/Pastoral Counseling Services for the American Baptist Churches. “We never [imagined] over 20 years ago that there would be a strong demand for workplace chaplains in businesses that range the gambit from small, family-owned businesses right on up to international Fortune 100 companies.”

The Houston-based National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains — an organization representing workplace ministers, priests, rabbis and laypeople — estimates that there are now nearly 4,000 trained and certified workplace chaplains working for businesses across the country.

“After World War II, employers hired former military chaplains to deal with labor unrest and problems caused by alcohol abuse, family breakup and other internal and external stresses,” said Diana Dale, executive director of the institute. “By the time companies pioneered early employee assistance programs in the 1950s, many workplace counselors were really clerics with additional training.”

Chaplains are not exactly a 20th-century innovation to American workplaces. “All throughout the 236-plus years of the United States’ existence, chaplains have been providing counseling and help to employees,” said Gil Stricklin, president of the Dallas-based Marketplace Ministries.

In just the first six months of this year, Marketplace Ministries has added 150 full-time and part-time chaplains on its nationwide staff, Stricklin said.

For decades prior to Sept. 11, police and firefighters employed chaplains at their station houses. In the late 1920s, construction companies hired missionaries to serve tent camps for workers building roads.

“People became more aware of chaplains in the workplace after the terrorist attacks of [Sept. 11], when police and fire chaplains played a more visible public role in providing aid and comfort,” Stricklin said.

“Chaplaincy in private industry has steadily increased during the past 15 years to a point where they have a more significant presence nationwide in the [American] workplace,” Dale said.

National and global social and political upheavals of the past two decades are reasons for the increase in chaplains in private business and industry, Stricklin said. “Chaplains humanize the workplace, especially when you take into account that about 70 percent of the work force does not have a priest, rabbi, minister or imam that they can turn to in times of personal need,” he said, quoting a 2001 employee benefit survey conducted by the RoperNOP, a market research firm based in New York. “It’s quite common for workplace chaplains to perform marriages and funerals because they are the only significant spiritual influence in employees’ lives.”

“Human resource managers typically just aren’t trained to provide emotional and spiritual support to their employees,” said Jo Schrader, executive director of the Association of Professional Chaplains, headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill. “HR managers are great when describing company benefits and rules and regulations, but they often fall flat in providing the emotional comfort an employee may need. Workplace chaplains are a resource HR managers can use.”

Workplace chaplains are specifically trained to provide counsel in the workplace when employees request it. They follow strict rules about worker confidentiality and freedom of religion. No proselytizing is allowed, according to the code of conduct outlined by the National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains (see “Thou shall respect others,” p. 13.) “We don’t want chaplains in the workplace that are there to convert people instead of helping them with the issues that are troubling them and their families,” said Langhorne, of the American Baptist Churches. “The workplace is not the proper environment for a chaplain to evangelize in.”

“Among the typical types of services a workplace chaplain can provide to an employee is financial and debt counseling, marriage counseling, and alcohol and substance abuse counseling,” said Dwayne Reece, vice president of Corporate Chaplains of America based in Wake Forest, N.C. “Workplace chaplains are also trained to intercede if domestic abuse is suspected and provide help, if needed and asked for, to the victims.”

“It’s important to remember that the employee has to come to the chaplain,” said Schrader. “The chaplain in the workforce never takes the first step in interacting with an employee.”

Education is the key in the making of a workplace chaplain. To meet the great demand businesses have placed for qualified workplace chaplains, Dallas Theological Seminary offers courses on corporate chaplaincy in its masters of theology program. Denver Seminary also offers corporate chaplaincy courses for students who want to make an impact outside the traditional pulpit arena.

“While most of our chaplains have bachelor’s of arts or bachelor’s of science degrees in biblical studies, around 80 percent of our chaplains have master’s degrees in divinity, ” said Reece.

“Yet just having an undergraduate degree in biblical studies and/or a master’s degree in divinity does not make a priest, rabbi, minister or imam qualified to become a workplace chaplain,” Reece said. That requires additional training before a chaplain can step one foot inside a business and begin ministering to the needs of the employees there.”

Each year the Association of Professional Chaplains offers 300 priests, rabbis, ministers and imams the opportunity to become board-certified workplace chaplains. “One of the first things a chaplain learns when they are undergoing training for the workplace is that they are not there to usurp the role of the traditional human resources manager,” Schrader said.

Joseph Allen is a freelanc