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Bosses turn to corporate chaplains to counsel employees


Michael Spooneybarger/RNS

Roland Barlowe, a corporate chaplain who works once a week at a Courtyard Marriott hotel in Tampa, talks with kitchen worker Joan Owens as he makes the rounds at the hotel. Southern Baptists place chaplains through endorsement of the North American Mission Board.

TAMPA, Fla. — Every Thursday, Baptist minister Roland Barlowe begins his workday with a “huddle” in the housekeepers breakroom at the downtown Courtyard Marriott. He goes around the room, greeting each of the housekeepers, talking about worries and concerns.

“We find ourselves capable of worry, but I heard recently a great saying that I want to pass on to you,” the gregarious, grinning Barlowe tells the staff. “Control those things of which you have control and let go of everything else.”

Miriam Johnson, the assistant chief housekeeper, pulls Barlowe aside and requests prayers for a sick grandmother and niece. The two hold hands and bow heads as Barlowe says a brief prayer for both women.

Then it’s off to the top floor of the hotel. Barlowe works his way down, floor by floor, popping in and out of rooms to check on the housekeepers.

Barlowe is one of more than 1,900 corporate chaplains employed by Marketplace Chaplains USA, a Dallas-based company that dispatches chaplains to more than 1,600 companies across the U.S. Together, they minister to more than half a million employees.

They’re hired to provide spiritual comfort and counseling to American workers. The idea is that happier employees are better employees, and if faith-based counseling helps, bosses are willing to give it a shot.

Office chaplains are just part of a larger faith-at-work movement percolating through corporate America. A 2005 NBC poll found that nearly 60 percent of respondents said religious beliefs played some role in making decisions at work; an even higher number said such beliefs influenced their interactions with co-workers.

Most corporate chaplains are Christian, but Marketplace and Corporate Chaplains of America, based in Raleigh, N.C., also provide Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams to counsel employees.

Sometimes employees can be reluctant to participate.

“It takes a warming-up period,” said Dwayne Reece, a vice president at Corporate Chaplains of America, which has 100 chaplains working in 330 companies. “You’ll have employees which quickly take to the program and some employees are very hesitant.”