Prayers on a plane

airplane I spent most of Christmas in airports and in airplanes, so forgive me for dwelling on travel as of late. While we were waiting for our third flight on Friday, I read on my new phone (thank you, husband) about the attempted attack on a jetliner arriving in Detroit. There's nothing like a terrorist scare to get you excited about flying again.

I'm guessing the airport chaplain whom the Washington Post recently profiled kept pretty busy this weekend. Reporter Paul Farhi offered a pretty nice Christmas-day feature on the chaplain at Dulles airport who might pray with people, offer directions to a gate or give counsel to employees.

Indeed, nearly 7,000 people this year have sought pastoral counseling at Dulles and Reagan National Airport, according to Metropolitan Washington Airports Interfaith Chapels, the nonprofit organization that runs chapels at both facilities. Chaplains at the airports have met with 28,000 employees over the years, as well, to talk with them about all manner of problems -- family issues, money issues, drug and alcohol abuse.

I suppose there are chaplains everywhere--in the military, sports, hospitals, politics--but it never occurred to me that airports would have chaplains running around.

There are some sections of the article that could have used editing, however. Take the second half of this sentence, for example.

Which in this case includes about 36,000 airport employees and tens of thousands of travelers, many of whom seemed more in need of gate information than spiritual guidance.

Thanks for your opinion? The biggest problem, though, is that the reporter buries the chaplain's religion down to the 14th paragraph. That's sort of like writing about an athlete but not describing the sport or a musician without explaining the instrument.

By tradition, airport chaplains are interfaith (Benson happens to be a Presbyterian minister) and do not proselytize. They are most visible in emergencies, such as the aftermath of a plane crash, but most of the time they counsel airport employees and conduct worship services and Bible study sessions. Benson and his 10 assistant chaplains, all of whom are Christian and most of whom are former military chaplains, receive a small stipend for their work from MWAIC, which itself survives on donations. (A Muslim cleric conducts services on Fridays.)

Benson happens to be a Presbyterian minister? What if he were a religious leader in another tradition--would he happen to be a priest or an imam? We need more information here; for example, is he ordained?

The interfaith issues could easily be developed more. He's not Catholic, he's not Jewish, he's not Muslim, so how can he be both interfaith and Presbyterian? What happens if, say, someone who's Hindu wants to talk to a guru instead of a Presbyterian? I'm guessing some people would find it uncomfortable to pray to someone else's God--Does Benson ever get someone who just doesn't want to pray with him?

I'm also curious how one "gets" to be a airport chaplain. Do you have to have certain qualifications to become one? Does it require any formal education or training? Do you audition or something? Who do they "report" to? Those are some pretty basic questions I would find important for a story like this.

One angle the reporter could have explored is how Benson would compare his role as a hospital chaplain to his former role in the military. I assume military and sports chaplains hang out with their platoon or team for the deployment or season, while airport and hospital chaplains probably see people come and go all the time.

I would also be interested in hearing from airport authorities about why they have chaplains. Is it just one more way to keep people from mentally exploding after waiting in line after line after line? What role can a chaplain play that, say, an airport employee can't?

More and more flying customers will be on edge as tighter security measures will likely be put in place. Plus, people love talking about their latest horror airport experience (after two days, I still don't have my bag), so airport chaplains are potential profiles to pursue.

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