Update: In light of Mecklenburg County’s “stay at home” order, the chaplains will no longer be in the terminal. They are available by telephone and can respond to the Airport in case of an extraordinary event.
Like on any other Wednesday, Chaplain George Szalony walked around the CLT terminal on March 18 taking his time to speak to people he recognized and giving those he did not know a kind and friendly nod. The Airport has temporarily suspended its volunteer program, but Chaplain George and nine other chaplains can’t bring themselves to stay home.
“It’s important for employees to see us, especially at this time. It is just being present and reassuring,” the chaplain said. “Our volunteers are unbelievably committed. We care about the people at the Airport, we are proud of what’s happening here, and of what we do.”
Chaplain George and the others are part of the Airport Chaplaincy at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, a non-profit organization. The group is committed to providing spiritual and emotional support at the Airport. In exchange they use a small room converted to a nondenominational chapel. It’s a commitment they take very seriously.
As a precaution, the chaplains are not holding services. But the chapel is open to anyone who wants to visit. A container of hand-sanitizing wipes sits on the small altar for anyone who needs them.
The chaplains walk the concourses and chat with anyone who seems interested in talking. They share their contact information, just in case someone needs to talk when a chaplain isn’t close by. Chaplain George says it’s their way of promoting calm during this uneasy time.
They are taking precautions to keep themselves and others healthy.
They put more space than usual between themselves and those they talk with.
They don’t shake hands or otherwise touch anyone.
They take special care to not lean on railings or touch anything they don’t need to touch. And they are washing their hands repeatedly.
Chaplain George believes people are taking COVID-19 seriously. The Airport cleaning staff is constantly sanitizing handrails, tables, and our infamous rocking chairs. Most travelers are practicing social distancing as they choose where to sit or stand.
“We are in unchartered territory. But I’ve got to believe most people coming through here don’t feel sick and aren’t simply ignoring the concerns,” said George, who has volunteered at CLT for 11 years. “There’s an underlying tension. When you work ministry in a public environment, there is a sense when people are concerned. I can certainly sense it.”
His advice, as always, is to stay calm.