Airport chaplain helps folks find more than just God.

I often highlight on this blog religious people who are less than a shining example of the faith they profess to believe in. I can be particularly hard on the ones who have taken on the mantel of religious leadership that have engaged in the very sins they decry in others. I can be harsh in my criticisms of such people.

However, I also try to acknowledge the religious folks who seem to actually be trying to live up to their faith. There are plenty of believers out there whom I have absolutely no beefs with and whom I think are a positive force in society. Listening to NPR yesterday I came across the following news item about one such person. Meet Methodist Minister Chester Cook:

By some definitions, Cook has the largest church in the country. As the full-time chaplain of Atlanta’s international airport, his flock includes the 56,000 employees and a quarter of a million travelers who pass through each day.

The United Methodist minister models his ministry on the parable of the good Samaritan — a stranger who helps a traveler in crisis and practices kindness, often without mentioning religion. Cook says he gets a lot of practice in these days of inflexible airline rules. He often pays a traveler’s $150 change fee from his chaplain’s budget or his own wallet. And sometimes he manages to bend the rules.

On a walk back toward the airport’s chapel, Cook recalls the time he found an elderly woman stranded in the airport. She wasn’t supposed to fly out for three days, and the airline wouldn’t change her ticket. So Cook confronted an airline manager.

“I said, ‘This is a dilemma, because if that was your 81-year-old grandmother sitting out there, you would be fit to be tied,’ ” Cook says. “And I said, ‘I’m sure the news channels would love this story if I gave them a phone call.’ “

The woman was put on the next flight.

Cook’s job has him helping the frazzled, overwhelmed, stranded, and lost (both metaphorically and literally). He is there to lend a helping hand whether it’s only to help you find your next flight or to deal with whatever tribulations you happen to be going through at the time:

Theology on the run and expedited prayers — that’s typically all that Cook has time for. And it’s not just for distressed travelers, but also for the tens of thousands of flight attendants, baggage handlers, cashiers and others who work at the airport. Cook has 40 part-time chaplains who help him serve this huge operation, and they often specialize: Former pilots minister to pilots, retired military tend to the soldiers.

Each day, hundreds of soldiers and Marines pass through this airport going to or from Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s a sea of tan and green. These people have a very different set of spiritual needs. Cook says he’s seen a sharp surge in anxiety in the past year — not about fighting, but about the toll that repeated deployments take on their families.

“It’s tough to have a newborn and then have to leave,” he says. “Or to have a boy just starting T-ball and you have leave. And the wives, who said, ‘I married you to have a life with you, and now I’ve had 10 years of separation.’ There’s no answer.”

It seems rare to meet a clergyman who’s willing to admit that sometimes there’s no answer to the dilemmas they’re confronted with. Who’s honest enough or forthright enough not to fall back on the old standby of God’s mysterious methods. Who’s willing to help out without trying to turn it into an attempt to convert you to their faith. Such people are worthy of our support regardless of whether we share their belief. We would be better off if more people, believers or not, emulated folks like Minister Cook.

12 thoughts on “Airport chaplain helps folks find more than just God.

  1. “I said, ‘This is a dilemma, because if that was your 81-year-old grandmother sitting out there, you would be fit to be tied,’ ” Cook says. “And I said, ‘I’m sure the news channels would love this story if I gave them a phone call.’ “

    The woman was put on the next flight.

    THAT is fucking awesome.  Maybe I see a disproportionally large part of the bad kind of religious folk (even though I’m friends with some of the nicest of the faith) but if more people did these kinds of things or even just thought this way, then I would take issue far less than I do with some of the bone-heads.

    This is the kind of operation ALL religious organizations should emulate (or like you say Les, everyone regardless of faith).  It’s all well and good to look after your immortal soul and preach that the next life will be wonderful and perfect, but also realize that this life could be pretty darn good if more people pitched in.

  2. What you are, the while stands over you and shouts so loudly, I can hear nothing to the contrary.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

    John 13:35

    Compassion consists of two parts: imparting joy to others and relieving others’ suffering. These actions come naturally to the Buddha; they don’t require forced effort. Speaking, lending a hand to others, expounding the Law—these are all acts and deeds of compassion. Someone who attains this state of life is hailed as a Buddha and enjoys the respect and trust of everyone.

    Josei Toda in “Buddhism for You, Love,” by Daisaku Ikeda

    Compassion: the acts that set men above all other creatures.

    Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
    They drew a circle that shut him out.
    But love and I had the wit to win,
    We drew a circle that cut him in.



  3. Waited too long to edit. The last should be:

    He drew a circle that shut me out—
    Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
    But love and I had the wit to win:
    We drew a circle that took him in.

    Edwin Markham

  4. I have nothing but admiration for people of faith that think like this airport Chaplain.

    People who proclaim a faith should put it to work !

    Not just be a mouthpiece to discourage and alienate the Human Race with ” their ” religion.

    I suggest that this Chaplain recognizes all Gods Children regardless of their Faith, or even the lack of one.

  5. Paul, I believe he does just that. The chapel at the airport is set up to be interfaith. There’s an alter and flowers, but no crosses or any other symbols specific to a single religion. Any and all are welcome to make use of it as it should be at an airport.

  6. Maybe it’s the Methodist part that makes him special. My grandpa was a Methodist minister. And he was the kindest, gentlest person I have ever known. He didn’t preach, except for in church on Sunday. He had a way of finding the best in everyone he met, and of encouraging people to be their best.
    And he wrote silly poems for his grandchildren.

  7. I don’t think the Methodist in him is the true deciding factor. I think he’ just a wonderful person. And this is something a wonderful person wouldn’t have a problem doing no matter what faith or lack there of they have.

  8. It does seem to me that certain Christian sects tend to appeal more to some sorts of people than others. Methodists and Episcopalians seem to be two factions that tend to be fairly moderate. When you see a Christian in the news for behaving badly it’s often an Evangelical, Catholic, or Southern Baptist.

  9. It does seem to me that certain Christian sects tend to appeal more to some sorts of people than others.

    I’ve always assumed that people who change their churches, denominations, or religions usually go somewhere better suited to their personality.

  10. Thanks Guys and Gals,
    I am the guy in the Airport Chapel story.
    I am nothing special.
    Yes every one that walks in the door is welcome.
    Yes every one that walks in the door is loved.
    I appreciate this blogs honesty.
    Sometimes tables need to be overturned.

    I like being the regular guys chaplain.

    What ever it takes!!!

    Chaplain Chester Cook

  11. Then we need more people who are “nothing special”, particularly in politics.  It’s like common sense.  You’d think it would be everywhere, as in.. well… common.

    It ain’t.

  12. I am nothing special.I like being the regular guys chaplain.

    Like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.”

    Compassion is such a rare commodity. How refreshing to see someone who walks the walk. Talk is very cheap.

    Thank you, Chaplain Cook.


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