Gimme shelter: Jobsite chaplains there for construction workers in troubled times

Marcia Doyle Headshot
Updated May 16, 2014
Jobsite chaplain Dan Schallmo, of Marketplace Chaplains, speaks with a construction worker.Jobsite chaplain Dan Schallmo, of Marketplace Chaplains, speaks with a construction worker.

Review the news we’ve reported in just the past two weeks, and you get an idea of how stressful jobsites can be: a blowtorch sparks the destruction of bridge, pushing back a project completion by months, possibly years; a work zone fatality and even a shootout.

But those are headline events. Jobsites are also filled with the more personal problems people everywhere bring to work: a troubled marriage, sick family member, perhaps out-of-kilter finances. And if a job keeps workers from returning home each night, problems can get amplified. The resulting stress impacts job performance, perhaps even safety.

It is in this human work zone that Gary Abney, corporate chaplain, works. “We listen for the needs of the heart,” he says. “We’re not there to fix it, we’re there to help employees see more clearly.”

Abney works for Marketplace Chaplains of America, a national company that contracts with employers to provide 24/7 care access.

24/7 care

“We’re available 24/7 through a voicemail paging system,” says Jeff Hilles, president and COO, with Corporate Chaplains of America, which also offers chaplaincy services to contractors. “If an employee is in jail at 3 a.m., we’re there.”

Marketplace Chaplains has more than 50 construction clients and about 2,800 chaplains in 46 states, says Dick DeWitt, president and chief operating officer. “Leaders understand there’s much more to employees than just what they present at work,” he says.  “Our chaplains are there to give love, help, hope and care — words you usually don’t hear on the jobsite.”

A good chaplain also understands that work is foremost, Hilles says. “In fact, we require our chaplains to have seven years of workplace experience, because they need to understand why it’s important not to interrupt the workflow.”

No Bible thumping

According to Abney, one good contact point for jobsite chaplains is the safety meeting. “I’ve done everything from simply attending, to speaking, to offering a closing prayer,” he adds. “It varies according to what a superintendent wants.” Which is one key point of chaplains, according to Abney. “We’re not there to impose.”

And that includes his personal faith. Although both Markeplace Chaplains and Corporate Chaplains emphatically state they approach their work from Christian viewpoint, they also say their mission is not to Bible thump. “We promise not to proselytize,” Abney says. “If asked, we’ll offer our viewpoint, but only if asked. We serve with respect, regardless of an employee’s faith or sexual orientation.” Adds DeWitt: “Sickness, cancer and other troubles don’t have a religion.”

Company chaplains have also been called on to perform funerals, do marriage counseling and visit employee relatives in hospitals and nursing homes. They are certified to enter jails, emergency rooms and accident scenes. “And since we have a network of chaplains, we can have one of them visit an employee’s mom who’s just had surgery in another city,” Hilles comments.

Although fees vary by the number of employees and locations served, DeWitt say cost should not be a factor in hiring a chaplaincy service. “We say if you can afford a coffee service, you can afford a chaplain,” he says.