If you’ve ever had a long layover in a large airport and are killing time by exploring the airport (heads up that you might want to do this or this or look into these), you may come across the airport chapel.
A chapel? In an airport? What’s up with that?
The first chapel built in a U.S. airport was in the early 1950s, at Boston Logan. It was done at the request of Boston Archbishop Richard J. Cushing. “Our Lady of the Airways” was a Catholic church specifically meant for airport employees, most of whom were Catholic, who had to work long shifts and couldn’t make it to regular mass.
“Our Lady of the Skies” (do you see a trend? I see a trend), also a Catholic chapel, opened at Idlewild Airport (that eventually became JFK) in 1955. With NYC being the ultimate example of the Great American Melting Pot, JFK also opened a Protestant chapel and a Jewish synagogue in the 60s (they also opened a mosque several decades later. All 4 places of worship remain in existence today). Protestant chapels opened in the airports in Atlanta and Dallas (several of them in Dallas. It’s a big airport) in the next two decades, as well.
By the late 20th century, single faith airport chapels were becoming something of a dying breed and many of the spaces started to become more inclusive and open to people of all faiths. Instead of just being used for Sunday services of whatever flavor religion the chapels had previously represented, they were now used for services on other days/nights by those of various faiths.
Besides becoming more inclusive to all religions, these chapels have also opened their doors so not only could airport employees use the space, but so could travelers who are looking for a quiet spot for reflection or meditation.
Nowadays, more than half of the “large hubs” (airports that cater to 1% or more of the nation’s annual passengers) in the U.S. offer one or more chapels for their staff and passengers.
From Pew Research Center:
Each of the chapels are run differently, depending on the rules of the airport and sometimes the state they’re in. From Smithsonian:
What is permissible in one city is often not in another. Often, it is local, historical and demographic factors, including the religious composition of the region, that influence decisions. These could even be based on who started the chapel, or how much interreligious cooperation there is in a city.
Certain airports such as Chicago’s O’Hare have strict rules regarding impromptu religious gatherings whether inside the chapel or out. Some use their public address systems to announce religious services. Others prohibit such announcements and do not even allow airport chaplains to put out any signs that could indicate a religious space.
Whatever the case, for those who are looking for a place to worship, reflect or meditate, it’s nice to know that chapels can be found in many large airports.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary