A day with a workplace haplain.
Article Type: Column
Subject: Chaplains (Services)
Chaplains (Psychological aspects)
Author: Nimon, Kim
Pub Date: 12/22/2009
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Winter, 2009 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 4
Topic: Event Code: 360 Services information
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 216961293

Last month, I had the opportunity to shadow a workplace chaplain in my hometown of Dallas. Through that experience, I gained a new appreciation and insight for their role. For readers who may be contemplating a career in this field, or for others who are just interested in the roles that they serve, I thought you might like to experience a day in the life of a workplace chaplain. To facilitate that experience, I asked Chaplain Charlotte Turner to chronicle a "typical" day and to answer some questions I had as a result of our time together.

To give you a little background, Chaplain Turner served as a missionary in East Africa and Russia before joining Marketplace Chaplains USA. She became acquainted with Marketplace Chaplains through friends working in businesses served by chaplains when she returned to Tyler, Texas, to be with her ailing mother, and she eventually moved to Dallas to begin serving in the workplace. Chaplain Turner has been with Marketplace Chaplains for four years and currently serves as a team leader in the Dallas area overseeing other chaplains, as well as meeting the needs of clients that she serves directly.

Kim: From the time I spent with you, I recognize that you probably never have a "typical" day, but could you chronicle how you usually prepare for a day of chaplaincy, perform a client visit, and process the results of a client visit?

Charlotte: Preparation for the day starts by having a cup of coffee with Jesus. I've learned the hard way that if I don't first spend that intimate time with the Lord, I spend the rest of the day just going through the motions. He's my source for strength, guidance, wisdom, and peace; He's the reservoir from which I draw to share with others. Afterward, my day officially begins--usually checking e-mail for any immediate needs that may have come in from overnight requests, answering phone calls, and arranging for any previously unscheduled activities for the day. Some mornings include office time for administrative duties-arranging appointments with client leadership for chaplaincy service reviews, management of chaplain team assignments, etc.--and other mornings I go directly to client locations where I serve as chaplain for regularly scheduled worksite visits.

The typical worksite visit (WSV) consists of checking in with company leadership and/or the human resources department to determine if there are any special needs and then walking through the business to make myself available for employees. The goal is to listen to their concerns and be a resource for help, hope, encouragement, and support to work through the struggles they are facing. We serve in a wide variety of businesses--car dealerships, legal offices, manufacturing plants, banks, print shops, slaughterhouses, and just about every other type of business setting you can imagine--so sometimes direct access to employees is limited by the work environment. Generally we visit workstation to workstation for just a minute or two, speaking briefly with employees who indicate a desire to talk, careful not to interrupt when the employee is otherwise engaged. When an employee presents a situation that requires more privacy or a discussion of longer than five minutes or so, we will ask the employee to get permission from a supervisor to leave the workstation to continue the visit or arrange a separate visit at another location where more time and attention can be given without disrupting the employee's work.

The WSV may also include follow-up visits with employees to provide materials, referral information, or other resources as needs were discovered on previous visits. Upon leaving the business, I often make notes, take a brief time for prayer, and make arrangements for any additional care that might be needed before proceeding to the next WSV. There may be as few as three or as many as six or seven WSVs in a day depending on the size of the companies visited and the geographic spread of the locations, so the time available between visits may be limited.

On some days the routine includes visiting employees or their family members in the hospital, in jail, at their homes, or other locations for those discussions that require more time or need to involve other people. The day may include conducting or attending a funeral, a wedding, baby shower, company picnic, awards celebration, or other special event. Other days the routine may include facilitating a team training meeting, a chaplaincy service review with client leadership, or presenting an overview of the chaplaincy service to a new or potential client.

At the end of the day out, I return to my home office where I check and respond to e-mail as needed, record the activities of the day (with no disclosure of names or other confidential information) into our reporting system, remember the needs of my clients in prayer, arrange for follow-up with any additional services needed as determined by the day's interactions, and tie up any other loose ends.

Kim: I remember at the end of three client visits, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I think you shared with me that you are an introvert like me and that your job takes a lot of energy. Can you describe how you recharge at the end of the day?

Charlotte: I have friends in ministry who thrive on the energy all that interaction provides them, but I affirm that introverts like you and I do find the intense interaction of the chaplaincy to be physically and emotionally draining. I believe for me the secret is in knowing that the power to do what I do doesn't come from me and the results aren't dependent on me. I'm not called to be successful, I'm called to be faithful. Many evenings I refresh and refuel by simply relaxing quietly at home. I enjoy cooking, so I put together a good meal, then snuggle up to read an uplifting book or watch an inspiring movie. I spend other evenings with family members and/or comfortable friends, or participating in activities at church, but I usually find that recharging for me is best achieved with quiet time at home out of the public arena.

Kim: As we walked through your clients' offices, I was amazed how you knew virtually all of the employees we encountered, as well as their particular situations. How do you do that? Do you think you have particular gifts and talents that help you serve in this role? Are there techniques you use to keep track of the needs of your clients?

Charlotte: I do believe what you witnessed is a gift given to me for this role at this time; I'm not naturally one who remembers names, events or details (just ask my kids!). I forget even really important things, to my embarrassment. Of course, it helps that I've been visiting these locations for years and, as mentioned earlier, I often make notes after the WSV to remind myself of particular situations. But I rarely have to refer to the notes unless I need specific details to complete a form requesting additional services in another city, etc. Somehow just caring for these people, sharing in their needs and bringing them by name before the Lord, seems to impact my ability to remember. However God is doing it, it's clear to me that at a time of life when I would expect to be even more forgetful, the Lord has seen fit to enable me to remember more than ever before.

Kim: While some may feel that religion does belong in the workplace, the reality is that employers have the right to exercise their religion in operating their businesses. ! noted that at least one of the companies we visited included God in its mission statement. In your experience, is there a difference in the role that you serve for companies whose leadership exercises religion in operating their businesses and those that do not? What challenges are there in serving employees whose faith system is different than yours?

Charlotte: Yes, there may be a few differences in companies where the leadership exercises religion in the operation of their business--things such as chaplains being invited to lead or participate in Bible studies or prayer gatherings in the workplace, chaplains being encouraged to carry and/ or distribute Bibles or religious materials, etc. However, while the corporate culture or religious position of a company's leadership may increase or decrease the likelihood of involvement in certain types of activities, the core and majority of our service is related to specific concerns expressed by individual employees and our response to their needs as they perceive them. We are often invited by employees to help with problems or discuss faith issues in what might seem to be the most unlikely of environments for that to happen; sometimes it is because they see us as trusted confidential caregivers and other times it is because we are cost-free resources. On the other hand, even in companies where religious values are high profile, there are employees who do not share those values, so in the end it's always up to the individual to choose to use or ignore the chaplaincy service regardless of the company's stance on religious activities in the workplace.


I personally can't think of an instance where serving employees of other faith systems was an issue except perhaps occasionally wishing I knew more about certain tenets of some particular religion. I work regularly with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and others. I have had numerous opportunities to serve in various ways, occasionally with spiritual implications, but most often I simply provide practical help. I hope that these interactions reveal the love of Jesus Christ to them in ways that might cause them to desire to know Him. I've come to realize that all people have the God-given right to believe whatever they choose even if what they believe rejects the very God who gave them that right. My desire is to portray the love of Christ impartially, serving others as Jesus did; if offered an invitation to explain my faith, I do so gladly, but my role is to provide the assistance I can for the employee regardless of their interest in my motives.

Kim: As you made the transition from missionary to workplace chaplain, can you describe how you prepared? what advice would you give to someone considering becoming a workplace chaplain?

Charlotte: Many of the basic prerequisites for serving in the corporate chaplaincy role--Bible college, ministry experience, and life experience--had already been gained in preparation for and service as a missionary. Prior to serving as a missionary, my background included work in both private sector businesses and civil service, with extensive experience dealing with the public. When I was hired, Marketplace Chaplains USA provided comprehensive training designed to equip chaplains for the specific challenges of ministry in the workplace, including awareness training to help chaplains avoid the pitfalls of ministry in the current sociopolitical climate in America. Additionally, we have monthly topical training in dealing with situations chaplains are likely to be faced with in the course of providing our services.


I would want to speak with the person considering chaplaincy about many aspects of serving in the marketplace, but most of all I'd like to be sure the individual was starting with a reality-based understanding of what we do; there seems to be many misconceptions about that. This isn't just a good way to get out to meet people or an opportunity to dabble in good works for a few hours a week; it is an intense ministry that requires considerable investments of time, energy, compassion, and commitment--all at levels of accessibility that many people are not called to or prepared to accommodate. A chaplain is in many ways like a spiritual ambulance driver responding to the wrecks people are experiencing in life with the understanding that they are there to serve an immediate need and then get the patient to the spiritual hospital (the church) as soon as possible--on call 24/7, moving from one crisis to another. Most people aren't cut out to be ambulance drivers or chaplains, but for those who are there is really very little in life that is as rewarding!

Kim: Now that you are a veteran corporate chaplain with the added responsibility of leading other chaplains, do you find there are opportunities for continued education? Where do you look for your own employee care?

Charlotte: Well, as mentioned earlier, Marketplace Chaplains offers ongoing proficiency training, but there are also several other resources available. In the Dallas area we have Hope for the Heart, Baylor Health Systems, Victim Relief, and other organizations that offer continuing education opportunities, including regularly scheduled classes for effectively dealing with life issues from a biblical perspective, continuing education units in chaplaincy, and crisis intervention. I'm aware of organizations in other states providing chaplaincy training as well as online opportunities, so I think it is fair to say there are more opportunities than I have time to pursue.

Regarding where I look for my own employee care, I don't have to look any further than my own team and coworkers. Even though it can be reasonably assumed that all of us are well connected with our own churches and family support systems, over the past few years there has been an emphasis placed on providing our chaplains--including me--support internally. For example, when my nephew committed suicide recently, I had three different chaplains in Colorado available and offering to help with the funeral arrangements and [to be] on hand for the funeral. When I returned to Dallas, I spoke with two chaplains outside my immediate team, as well as having the prayers and personal support of the chaplain team I supervise. I was abundantly cared for by my chaplains and coworkers!

By Kim Nimon, PhD

Kim Nimon, PhD, is an assistant: professor at the University of North Texas, where the main tenet of her research agenda focuses on improving human performance through the practice of workplace spirituality. She became aware of corporate chaplaincy programs during her doctoral studies and began researching how they fit within the larger context of workplace spirituality. Her research on workplace chaplains has been published by the Journal of Management, Spirituality, & Religion and the International Society for Performance Improvement.
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