Anyone who takes the time to survey the world of airport chaplaincy with anything more than a passing interest will soon discover that there are as many different varieties of chaplaincy as there are airports. Every airport has a unique set of characteristics: its physical location, size, the nature of local businesses, passenger & cargo ratios, management structure, national significance, and on and on. All of these factors play into the response formulated by local faith communities when meeting the need for a presence at the airport.
And of course, the most fundamental questions to be addressed are all about people. Who works at the airport? Who travels through it? What is the faith experience – if any – of these individuals? What kind of spiritual and emotional support might they value when they are at work or traveling? What can the chaplaincy bring that enhances the atmosphere for both passengers and personnel?
In a place like London Heathrow Airport, the response to these questions must surely include a Multi Faith dimension. Each and every chaplain and volunteer is there for the benefit of people of all faiths, and those of none. In an hour of need we cannot discriminate by creed or colour, or by any other category of humanity. Insofar as we are able, and the individual will allow, each chaplain will do their utmost to be of some meaningful assistance. It goes almost without saying that Heathrow, one of the world’s most prominent international airports, located within the boundaries of a hugely diverse and multi-cultural city, should rightly have a chaplaincy corps which reflects the broad strokes of that diversity.
Chaplains are not Lone Rangers, or shouldn’t be. They are not self-appointed and self-sponsored do-gooders, hobbyists and clerical aviation-geeks merely indulging a personal interest. No, they are properly vetted representatives of local faith communities or societies for non-religious world-views, giving hands and feet and heart to express the collective interest in promoting the common good. Chaplains are an extension of our broader society and thus a mirror of its diversity.
Does this mean we lose our distinctiveness or that we gloss over our differences? No, we cannot afford to be either naïve or sentimental; we embrace instead a more mature and measured dialogue than is, sadly, often witnessed between members of our faith groups in other forums. Whilst maintaining our own identity we must choose to focus on those things that unite us rather than those that divide us.
And there is plenty that unites us. All people, no matter their creed, know something about the importance of compassion and care in time of need. All major faiths and philosophies espouse doing good to one’s neighbour. And holy scriptures throughout history have drawn on the lessons of pilgrimage, of the importance of the journey, a theme that resonates deeply in the setting of an international airport.
Multi-faith airport chaplaincy is not about the promotion of religion; it is about the simple recognition that people everywhere take their faith with them when they travel or go to work. The chaplain is present as a resource to encourage them in finding value and meaning as they make their own life journey.