This demand for spiritual care in 2021 may seem surprising; religious belief is in decline across the U.S., and clinical therapy is becoming more widely available and increasingly destigmatized. But in secular institutions around the country—from the New York metropolitan transit system to universities, labor unions, and government bodies—chaplains have maintained a constant presence, and in some cases even expanded their ministry, focusing on the intersection of spiritual and mental health.
“The needs of employees, companies are coming to realize, are much more holistic than vacation time and leave policies,” said Michael Skaggs, director of programs for Brandeis University’s Chaplaincy Innovation Lab, which studies their role in public life. “Employees don’t leave their spiritual and religious needs at the door.”
In the United States, chaplains are stationed with universities, airports, and even the Department of Justice, which provides funding for them to assist local police departments in responding to crime, natural disasters, or terrorist attacks. After 9/11, chaplains from around the tri-state area responded to Ground Zero and counseled first responders. The federal government employs as many as 6,000 chaplains in the military, federal prisons, and the Veterans Administration, and healthcare organizations, including an estimated two-thirds of hospitals, account for another 10,000.
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