Adventures in Ignorance (Airport Version)

As I was walking from an airplane to baggage claim over the weekend, I heard an announcement that a Protestant Worship Service was about to begin in one of the five interfaith chapels in the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. Who goes to a religious service in an airport?  I almost said this out loud.

I can think of many reasons why people would not do this:

  • We wait in line for baggage checks and security checks.  Who has time to stop by the chapel?
  • If there’s pre-flight time, most people seem to spend it charging their phones or buying a snack.
  • You don’t need a chapel to pray or take a Xanax if you suffer from several aviophobia.

I imagined airport chaplains as faithful volunteers who have a lot of sitcom-worthy stories to tell, assuming that people who seek out the airport chapel services are particularly interesting/strange/easy to mock.

I can imagine makeshift prayer services on an actual airplane in the event of a disaster or a health emergency.  But if had a deep prayer concern at the airport, I would probably not go in search of an airport chaplain.

I did a little research while waiting for my plane trip home.

  • Most major airports have designated chapel areas.  Noted exceptions include Las Vegas and LAX.
  • I wondered if airport employees use these chapels. Over 60,000 employees serve Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, for example, and maybe they appreciate a quiet place to breathe and pray.  (Note:  Disney World depends on about 70,000 employees and they do not have a chapel – although there is a  “designated meditation area” in Epcot’s Morocco Museum.)
  • Maybe travelers use these chapels going to and from difficult destinations like funerals.  I remember that – after airline disasters – trauma specialists often gather in airport chapels to give information to distraught families.

But honestly, I imagined airport chapels as underused spaces staffed by lonely volunteers.  So I asked somebody.

There was a young woman at the Gate 27 desk in DFW and I asked her about the chapel in the airport.  “This might seem like a strange question,” I said, “But do you know anything about the airport chapel?  Does anyone ever use it?

She looked at me like I was daft.  But then she said, “Of course I know about it. It’s especially full on Sundays when people are working or traveling.  I was just at services this morning.”

Adventures in ignorace.  My ignorance.

It’s true that I tend to look askance at something if it’s not familiar to me – as if my own personal experiences are normative for everyone.  If I can’t imagine why anyone would visit an airport chapel, then everyone must have a hard time imagining it, right?

When we otherize people for doing/being something unfamiliar to us, it only shows our own ignorance.  If I’m surprised that people would use an airport chapel, maybe I just don’t know enough about airport chapels.  Or travelers.  Or airport employees.

If why we find ourselves shocked when people vote for a real estate tycoon who has never before run for public office maybe we need to talk to a different set of voters.  If we are stunned that people would gather in Charlottesville with torches chanting, “Russia is our friend” – maybe we need to get out more. Maybe we need to talk with people who don’t think like we think.

Cruelty should always shock us, I believe.  We should never allow injustice to become so normal that it no longer stuns us.

But the everyday lives of regular people vary broadly and I – for one -am ignorant about people who are not like me.  For the record, perfectly wonderful people practice their faith differently than I do and some of them seek out airport chapels while traveling through or working in airports.

One of the great things about what’s going on in our country right now, is that we realize our own ignorance about our neighbors.  Some of them have different experiences and different perspectives from our own.  Maybe we need to make some new connections and try to understand.

Image of one of the Interfaith Chapels in Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta.

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