Workplace chaplains growing trend in corporate America

Oklahoma City area employers add full-time or contracted pastors to their staffs. Chesapeake Energy Corp. hired a dedicated full-time, on-site chaplain in September. G.E. Oil & Gas ESP use a contracting service, Marketplace Chaplains.
BY PAULA BURKES pburkes@opubco.com Published: May 22, 2011
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Caroline Landwehr wished it was a nightmare, but it was real life. Three days before Halloween, she was awakened by the police, calling to tell her that her younger sister had a bad car accident and to get to the hospital immediately. Her sister died not long afterward.

“I was in shock, lost and didn't know what I needed to do,” said Landwehr, who was “forever grateful” when Bruce Ingram showed up at her mom's house.

Ingram is her pastor — at work. He is employed by Marketplace Chaplains to serve a growing list of companies in Oklahoma City, including the 460 employees of G.E. Oil & Gas Electric Submersible Pump (formerly The Wood Group) where Landwehr leads the import/export group.

“Bruce provided so much support for me and my family,” Landwehr said. He helped with everything from towing her sister's car, the police investigation and funeral arrangements, she said, to linking her with a grief support group and locating a roadside cross.

“Most importantly, he knew when to be there and when I needed space,” Landwehr said.

Hundreds using service

Workplace chaplains are a growing trend in corporate America. While Chesapeake Energy Corp. hired a dedicated full-time, on-site chaplain in September, other employers such as G.E. Oil & Gas ESP use contracting services such as Marketplace, which charges a monthly per-person fee.

Reports indicate hundreds of workers are using the service every month, said Ron Cordell, vice president of human resources with the oil pump company, who contracted Marketplace Chaplains a year ago.

“We realized people are coming to work with the rest of their lives on their shoulders,” Cordell said. “Whether it's a death, illness, child with drug addiction or another problem, they're endless in a group our size.”

Chaplains, Cordell said, give employees the support they need, so they can deal with problems and come to work.

Founded in Dallas in 1984, Marketplace today employs about 2,500 trained nondenominational chaplains who serve more than 450 companies at 2,300 locations in 43 states and four foreign countries, spokesman Art Stricklin said. In greater Oklahoma City, six male and female, Spanish- and English-speaking contracted consultants serve as roving chaplains to G.E. Oil & Gas and five other companies: JW-Operating Barnet Crane, ALN Medical, Pilgrim's Pride, Freedom Profit Recovery and Rasa Floors & Carpet Cleaning.

“We don't wait for employees to come to us,” chaplain Julie Young said. “We laugh together and share parts of our lives so that when something does come up and they need us, it's like telling a friend.”

Confidential service

Young holds a Bible school degree and master's in education. But other chaplains are ordained and licensed, so they can perform funerals and weddings.

Chaplains don't bring up religion unless employees do, Young said. Voluntary expression of one's religious beliefs at work is permissible under the law, but employers can't legally pressure employees to take part in prayer or devotional services.

The employee-chaplain relationships are confidential, Young said. The only exceptions are if employees have broken major laws, plan to hurt themselves or others, or damage their companies.

At Rasa Floors, branch manager Paul Caudillo said the service has proved invaluable for him and his employees. This year alone, Caudillo and his wife have lost six family members, and his father-in-law in Fort Worth had a heart attack followed by quadruple bypass surgery. Caudillo couldn't get away from work during the surgery, so his workplace chaplain arranged for a counterpart in Dallas to go the hospital and pray with his family.

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Did you know?

Only about 21 percent of Americans regularly attend church. Other studies report 41 percent, but some Americans aren't straight with pollsters, disputers say. Church attendance remains stronger among women and older people.

SOURCES: Gallup International, ReligiousTolerance.org; National Coalition of Independent Scholars

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