These Pastors and Chaplains Serve in One of the Most Unlikely Locations – and You May Not Even Know They’re There

Considering the hustle and bustle of air travel, an airport terminal would seemingly be the last place on earth one would expect to find peace, serenity and a prayerful environment —  but unbeknownst to many, mini-houses of worship are tucked away inside some of today’s busiest airports.

In a story published Tuesday, The Associated Press explored this relatively unknown phenomenon, describing these chapels as “tiny non-denominational spaces, in out-of-the-way locations.”

The first airport chapel originated in Boston’s Logan Airport back in 1954; today, these chapels exist all over the globe. But if you didn’t know of their existence, you’re not alone.

In this Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 photo, airport chaplains Michael Selinotakis, second from right, and Antonin Blanchi, right, both of Nice Cote d’Azur Airport in France, greet fellow chaplains attending the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains’ annual conference at Delta Air Lines’ headquarters, in Atlanta. (Credit: AP Photo/David Goldman)

With these chapels come faith leaders and chaplains who tend to the needs of weary and crazed travelers. According to the AP, there are currently 350 airport chaplains around the world who range in religious persuasion, including Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish leaders among their ranks.

The nature of their job is radically different from that of other chaplains or faith leaders. Rather than ministering to and getting to know a specific community, airport chaplains preach to and comfort people on the go. Their fluid “congregations” are interacted with in a fast paced manner and are, thus, ever changing.

This means that these pastors and faith leaders are working within the confines of a limited-time paradigm.

“You only get one chance to impress them; one chance to help them,” Bishop D.D. Hayes, a non-denominational pastor serving at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, told the AP. “Many times, we touch lives we never see again.”

Some of these preachers believe that the uncommon context actually helps their ministry.

“People are a little bit uptight already. It’s a great environment for ministry,” added the Rev. Hutz Hertzberg, a Christian chaplain who works in Chicago. “In the 21st century, we need to bring the ministry to where the people are instead of waiting for them to come to our churches.”

Considering the wide variety of reasons that people travel, it’s no surprise that faith leaders find themselves tending to a diversity of needs. From sending people off to war to praying for family members who are traveling to the funeral of deceased loved ones, these pastoral actions are divergent.

In this Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 photo, airport chaplains Rev. Fr. Michael Zaniolo, right, of Chicago, and Beverly McNeely, of Indianapolis, talk during a break while attending the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains’ annual conference at Delta Air Lines’ headquarters, in Atlanta. (Credit: AP Photo/David Goldman)

Take, for instance, the Rev. Wina Hordijk, a Christian minister who serves at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. She recently comforted a teenage girl whose boyfriend dumped her and subsequently left her at the airport. And that’s just one random example.

Plus, it’s not just the passengers these chaplains serve. Airport employees also seek solace and attend the sometimes brief services that are held in mostly interdenominational airport chapels.

While many of these faith leaders are volunteers, some are paid by airlines or airports.

The chaplains even have their own trade organization called the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains, a group that brings the male and female clergy together from different faith traditions.

Read more about the widely unknown world of airport chaplains here.

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