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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Chaplain resident Catherine Toronto visits a patient at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in July. Chaplains offer a listening ear or helping hand to the masses.

You'd expect to find a chaplain in a hospital, in the military, or at the scene of a terrible accident.

But on TRAX? In your office?

You might find them there, too.

Chaplains are popping up all over Utah, offering a listening ear or helping hand to the masses — Utah Transit Authority police detective and Chaplain Randall Mansfield even has prayed, when asked, for the arrested en route to the pokey.

"But I tell them right off," he says, "'I won't pray that you won't go to jail."'

The Rev. Mansfield, a 33-year police veteran, is an officer who doubles as a chaplain. He's never had a problem; nor have several other chaplains interviewed for this article. But in a few states, chaplains paid with taxpayer dollars have been entangled in church-state separation lawsuits. A bill now before Congress would allow military chaplains to close prayer "in Jesus' name" at public venues, as some chaplains feel pressured to use nondenominational language they feel waters down their faith.

So how do chaplains deliver, as the International Conference of Police Chaplains puts it, a "ministry of presence," while protecting their First Amendment rights, and the rights of others?

Trained chaplains know how to sidestep the dilemma.

Twenty-five years ago, the Rev. Mansfield found himself in a hospital, shot clean through the knee by a suspect he was chasing. He wished he had a chaplain to lean on at the time. But his employer didn't have one.

"It would have meant so much to me to have a hand on my shoulder ... (that) would give me that boost, that support, that spiritual strength that I needed."

Today, the Rev. Mansfield visits officers' family members in the hospital, facilitates police workshops on stress management and talks to transients.

The 10 volunteer and one part-time chaplains at the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office are called to accident and crime scenes to help the grieving.

The 14 volunteer chaplains at the Salt Lake City Police Department primarily do death notifications. They're trained to be direct, yet caring, and often sit with families, listen and assist with practical matters — how to deal with a medical examiner, for instance, and often leave pamphlets with families.

Police head chaplain and detective, the Rev. Jay Rhodes, says sometimes it's just about being there. Once called to a suicide, the Rev. Rhodes remembers a mother who walked right up him, lay her head on his shoulders and sobbed.

"I cried with her," the Rev. Rhodes said. "That's what someone needs, to share sorrow. You just need big shoulders."

Even businesses seek chaplains. Dallas-based Marketplace Chaplains USA in 2007 had chaplains in some 400 businesses — from Taco Bells to auto dealerships — in 43 states. Three companies are in Utah, said Art Stricklin, vice president of public relations. Marketplace chaplains visit businesses weekly to build relationships so when crises emerge, workers feel comfortable talking to them or calling them any time. They feel they boost morale and cut back on absenteeism by helping someone through issues on spot so they don't fester or require time off.

"I've always felt, even when I was in seminary, you need to get the church out of the building and go to where people are," said the Rev. Karl Dumas, a Baptist pastor and Marketplace chaplain who works with Pilgrim's Food Service in West Valley and Metalwest in Ogden. "Jesus met with people where they were, on the street and at the well. Going to the workplace is like meeting the women at the well."

Corporate chaplains have been around as long as chaplains have, said Josephine Schrader, executive director of the Association of Professional Chaplains based in Schaumburg, Ill. They're more noticed now, perhaps because people feel they can talk about faith at work.

But when can that cross the line?

The California Highway Patrol, a few years back, eliminated a full-time chaplain after the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention got sued for crossing the church/state line. Some agencies, including the highway patrol, now use volunteer chaplains to distance themselves from the constitutional issue, said the Rev. Dr. Chuck Lorrain, executive director of the 2,600-member International Conference of Police Chaplains.

The church/state line is not an issue for a trained chaplain, experts say. Most problems have surfaced when a local pastor sets up a public agency's chaplaincy, and stacks the ranks with others of the same faith, Lorrain said. And there's a difference between being a religious leader and a chaplain, who is typically specially trained to assist people off all faiths, or no faith.

"A chaplain, by agreeing to abide by the code of ethics, agrees that they won't proselytize," Schrader said. Prayer also is offered, not done without permission, and often done nondenominationally; sometimes, chaplains say what faith tradition they pray in, and ask if that's OK.

That's important. The military, for example, has come under fire for chaplains praying in a specific faith tradition during required chapel time, a practice Schrader says "could be considered, in some way, spiritual abuse" to those of another faith.

But is praying in a nondenominational way require some chaplains to turn their backs on their faith? Some in Congress think so. A bill has been introduced to allow military chaplains to close prayer "in Jesus' name" if they want to in certain public circumstances.

The competing values are hard to disentangle, said Jesse Merriam, research associate for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. But he says the bill might just work.

"I think the government would have the authority to say, you can invoke Jesus' name, but you can't alienate people who are forced to be there," Merriam said. "This bill would just expressly authorize that ... and I don't think it would be unconstitutional."

A Web posting about religious pluralism on the International Conference of Police Chaplains's Web site, and an excerpt by a member chaplain, provides additional insight:

"In my several decades of chaplaincy and ministry, I never have found it necessary to tell anyone about my own religious experience, even though once in a while I find myself in an opportunity where I could initiate and evangelism conversation. I'm not selling a religion, I'm serving the needs of a hurting person. This does not diminish my Christian commitment; it strengthens it."


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com