July 18, 2018

Airport Chaplaincy at ATL

photo-episcopal-priest-distributing-ashes
Rev. Donna Mote distributes ashes on Ash Wednesday (March 1) 2017, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Photo by John Spink, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Chaplaincy to Travelers

Rev. Donna Mote, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Funded by the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

The country’s first airport chapels were intended for staff rather than passengers and were established by Catholic leaders in the 1950s and 1960s to make sure their parishioners could attend mass. The first one in the U.S., Our Lady of the Airways, was built by Boston Archbishop Richard J. Cushing at Logan airport in 1951 and it was explicitly meant for people working at the airport. Protestant chapels came later. In the 1970s and 1980s, Protestant chapels opened in Atlanta, and in several terminals of the Dallas airport in Texas.

By the 1990s and 2000s, single faith chapels had become a “dying breed.” Most started to welcome people from all religions. The chapel at San Francisco International Airport, for example, known as the Berman Reflection Room for Jewish philanthropist Henry Berman who was a former president of the San Francisco Airport Commission, looks like a quiet waiting room filled with plants and lines of connected chairs. The scene at the Atlanta airport chapel is similar, with only a few chairs and clear glass entrances, to provide space for quiet reflection.

At Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, Rev. Dr. Donna Mote – Missioner for Innovation and Engagement for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta – serves as chaplain to anyone and everyone. She’s distributed ashes to mark the beginning of Lent, helped direct frazzled travelers to the right terminals, and accompanied those who are grieving. She’s also participated in honor guard ceremonies as the remains of service members are carried home. “I especially pay attention to those people that most folks, including passengers in the airport, don’t really pay attention to – custodial folks, fry cooks, people you only really see if you’re paying attention,” she said. “There’s the world in grief, there’s the world in joy – really, the whole world is passing through there.”