ATLANTA — Behind the crashing numbers on Wall Street and the failing finances of once-thriving business are the stories of people facing pay cuts, unemployment, family worries and crises of faith.
Amid these traumas, Southern Baptist chaplains who serve in corporate settings are seeing greater opportunities to engage hurting people.
Mark Cress, a North American Mission Board-endorsed chaplain, is president of Corporate Chaplains of America, encompassing more than 100 chaplains, most of them Southern Baptists.
“We make ourselves available 24/7 for businesses, we offer our services free of charge to them, and business owners see a real value in our ability to help alleviate emotional strain caused by family life problems and market problems,” Cress said.
Corporate chaplains work with multiple companies, ranging from hundreds of employees to dozens. The chaplains make “rounds” and build relationships, though sometimes it takes years before permission and opportunity arise to share Christ with a person.
But as the nation’s economy has deteriorated, so have the walls between chaplains and employees.
“Sometimes you don’t get beyond talking about football and family,” said chaplain Matt Baldwin, who serves six businesses in North Carolina. “We live in a disengaged culture, though. A lot of people don’t have family nearby. Many don’t have a church. Sometimes I’ll think I’ll never get beyond small talk. Then I’ll be surprised.”
Baldwin tells the story of a man who stopped him for conversation recently after years of silence. “I spent around three years of doing rounds with him, checking on him each week. One day he pulled me aside. He disclosed more than I could have ever imagined.”
More than helping employees open up about their feelings and life issues, chaplains work within the context of a friendship to share a hope-filled response to life’s crises.
“We can share Christ as long as we’re invited to share what we believe,” said chaplain Bill Ciocco, who serves in South Carolina.
Many chaplains have a background in business and a heart for businesspeople.
“We have different types of casualties in the workplace,” said Jerry Weaver, a chaplain to trucking companies near Atlanta. In addition to employees who lose jobs or experience pay cuts, there are the “left behinds. Those who say, ‘Why wasn’t it me?’
“We also focus now on employers, most of whom experience grief even as they are forced to lay off for the health of a company,” Weaver said.
“We really have unprecedented access,” he said.
Currently, 2,875 Southern Baptist chaplains have been endorsed by the North American Mission Board. As economic uncertainty builds, chaplains increasingly are working to incorporate the assistance of local churches and believers who can serve as lay community chaplains. Chaplains serve in a variety of settings including medical centers, the military, prisons and in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief work. To learn about NAMB chaplains, visit www.namb.net/chaplains.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine, published by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.)