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Monday, December 04, 2006

Company Chaplains

Today's NYT's had a fascinating article about the growth of industrial chaplains. It seems that corporations (especially blue-collar industrial and manufacturing) are finding that chaplains are more cost-effective than Employee Assistance Programs or counselors. Chaplains are hired either part or full-time to be available to employees in times of crisis or when they are looking for direction for next steps in solving problems. Some of these chaplains are already serving churches in smaller communities, others are recently retired, and still others are non-ordained, licensed or theologically trained to whom employees feel comfortable sharing their stories and life circumstances.
When asked to comment on the growth of chaplains in Tyson Chicken processing plants, a union worker was both complimentary and concerned. Her concern was that the chaplains were there for employees' personal needs, but were silent when it came to labor-law violations. They clearly received their pay-checks from the management and were not advocates for worker rights or job-place ethics.
I can see that happening in a number of institutional situations like hospitals or nursing homes. With all the eithical issues involving medicine and health today, you don't hear chaplains stepping into the public arena. That got me to thinking about pastors: when is a pastor a pastor and when do we become chaplains? Are chaplains pastors and pastors chaplains? Or is there a sublte distinction in the idea of a pastor "leading" or "shepherding" a congregation in a direction in which they might not be willing to go? Do pastors address structural issues in the church that need changing, or do we work for the company?
Pastors, to me, are like the Levites who are not given an inheritance of land like the other 11 tribes, but their inheritance is to serve the Lord. We are at our best when we can circulate and care at all levels in a community, but not be at home in any of them, rather being the "resident aliens" we are called to be.

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