Clergy are Finding a Calling in the Corporate Sector

Ken Heppner knows the pleasure and pain that comes with life on the road. For more than seven years, he worked as a truck driver. He delivered cargo all over North America.

Heppner knows how difficult life as a long-distance trucker can be.

Today, when Heppner climbs behind the wheel, he is making a different kind of delivery. He is delivering a message of hope and support to 400 or so trucking company employees through his role as the corporate chaplain.

A corporate chaplain is much like a church minister. But instead of preaching in church, they work for large companies. They help that company's staff deal with the difficulties of life.

Before his career as a trucker, Heppner spent almost two decades in the ministry. He worked for the church for nine years in North Dakota and nine years in Canada.

Now, Heppner and his wife travel from one end of the country to the other. They offer counseling and assistance to all employees and their families.

"They have someone available with whom they can share their personal, work-related and other issues that may arise," he says.

Staff members don't have to use Heppner's service. But they know he is there for them in times of difficulty and tragedy.

Heppner adds that any dealings he has with other staff are not discussed with anyone in management.

The idea of corporate chaplains is not new. In fact, the practice dates back to the end of the Second World War. A number of companies felt it would be a good idea to have a member of the clergy on staff to help war veterans deal with the return to work and a normal life.

In the years since, the practice of employing corporate chaplains has enjoyed slow but steady growth.

Tim Bancroft is the president of the National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains. He notes that there are currently several hundred workplace chaplains employed throughout the U.S.

It's tough to pinpoint the actual number, though. That's because many are employed under different titles.

"They work as counselors, human resource professionals and occupational health specialists," he says. "They are trained clergy who also have become mainstreamed in the corporate culture and have earned respect to function as chaplains."

Bancroft estimates that as many as 80 percent of workplace clergy have other titles at work, with chaplaincy duties included in their job. Only about 20 percent have the title and duties.

Jeff Hilles is the controller of Corporate Chaplains of America. Corporate Chaplains is a full-time workplace chaplaincy agency in North Carolina.

He notes that in any given year, about one in every seven employees will likely face personal problems that significantly affect how they do their job. They could be marital or family problems, alcohol or drug abuse, job stress, financial or legal problems or some other difficulty.

Because of this, Hilles says it's important for the corporate chaplain to already have a strong relationship with the employee. That way, the employee has someone to turn to in time of need.

"We are building relationships with employees so that when they are in need -- emotional, spiritual, crisis intervention, etc. -- they know us personally and make contact," says Hilles. He adds that the chaplains have pagers and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Hilles says another thing that makes the role of the corporate chaplain so important is that about 70 percent of the people in the workplace don't go to church regularly. That means they never have the opportunity to meet with a member of the clergy.

Heppner says the practice also helps the employers by letting staff know that their boss is looking out for their well-being.

"It expresses concern for the employee by the employer and allows personal issues to be addressed at the workplace," he says. "It helps the employer create a sense of care for the employee that goes beyond giving them a paycheck."

Because corporate clergy often spend several hours a week with their co-workers, they tend to spend more time listening than preaching.

"The role is different in that you do not necessarily preach a sermon every week," says Heppner. Instead, he spends more time talking to his co-workers on a one-to-one basis.

In fact, according to Bancroft, the role of a workplace chaplain differs dramatically from that of the congregational clergy.

In a congregation, he says, the clergy are trained to nurture people of one particular religion. Corporate chaplains are trained to work with all religious traditions, both within and outside the Christian tradition.

"Also, chaplains who are professionally recognized and function within the standards of professional chaplaincy never engage in evangelism," says Bancroft. It isn't considered right to try to force your religion on someone else when they are simply trying to earn a living in a job site.

Hilles notes that once employers and staff recognize the role of corporate chaplains, most welcome them.

"When employers see that we are not banging their workers over the head with Bibles, but instead we are caring for their needs, we receive tremendous acceptance from the workplace staff," he adds.

Employees are facing a changing world at the workplace. Advances in technology are changing the way many businesses operate. In many cases, workers feel they aren't as important to the company as they once were.

"I think as business has increased in speed through technology advancements, people can become more disconnected," says Hilles. He also notes that employees are becoming more confused because many full-time workers are being replaced by part-time and temporary employees.

"This has increased job-related stress, increasing the need for our services," he says.

To be effective as a corporate chaplain, Heppner says potential candidates should have pastoral skills in caring and be sensitive to the needs of people. He adds that it helps to have some training in counseling. You need listening skills and an understanding of the workplace setting.

"You are not necessarily the professional counselor. [You] guide the employee in the process of getting help for the issues and concerns that they may have."

Hilles adds that he feels the most important aspect of the role of corporate chaplain doesn't necessarily come from the church, but rather from the workplace itself.

"Actually, the most important training for our chaplains is not from the ministry, even though a theological education or training is a requirement," he says.

"The most important training our chaplains have is real workplace experience. Employees and employers know that our chaplains understand the workplace."

The salary varies. Bancroft says the annual wage can be anywhere between $26,000 and $45,000, depending on experience.

He adds that if chaplains set up their own business, their income would depend on how successful that business is.

Hilles sees great things ahead for corporate chaplains. He feels there will be an even stronger push to put the human element back into the workplace.

"I believe that we are at the leading edge of a movement to bring a caring and compassionate attitude back to the workplace," he says.

Corporate Chaplains of America has doubled in size every year since it started. And Hilles is predicting an even larger growth in the next five years as more companies realize the benefits of having a corporate chaplain on staff.


National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains
The only professional association dedicated to workplace chaplaincy alone

The Corporate Chaplain
A full-time workplace chaplaincy agency

Keeping The Faith While At Work
An article about the trend toward corporate chaplains

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