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Monday, 17 March 2014 14:39

Putting faith in the workplace

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A casino might seem an unlikely workplace for a man of the cloth but not for Father James Grant ssc from Chaplains Without Borders.

Father Grant is the chaplain at the Crown Casino in Melbourne and is a strong advocate for workplace or corporate chaplaincy as a means of serving people in need at a human and spiritual level. He also sees it as a way of changing perceptions about the nature of the Catholic
community.

“Rather than sometimes being seen as constantly asking for commitments from Catholics, here we are portrayed as an organisation giving to the wider community without an agenda other than service,” he said.

“If the Church is not doing things in the workplace, it is not relevant to people’s lives.”

Fr Grant was in Adelaide recently to explore opportunities in South Australia for Chaplains Without Borders and his other project, Chaplains in Business.

His visit was timely, coming shortly after the announcement by General Motors Holden that it would close its Australian manufacturing operations in 2017.

Archbishop Philip Wilson has indicated he will discuss with parish priests in the northern suburbs how the Church can be of assistance to workers and their families, as well as others affected by the closure.

Fr Grant said chaplaincy offered something different to “employer assistance providers” who were engaged by companies to provide counselling, career development and re-training.

These people usually operated from “outside” the organisation, whereas chaplaincy was on-site and accessible to all – from the senior manager to the car park attendant.

“Everyone gets to know the pattern,” he said. “People get to see you, look at you, stir you up about the footy, make jokes and develop a relationship with you.”

As a result, Fr Grant says there is a better chance of preventing a crisis, because a worker will tell you if they are having problems, such as arguments with the spouse or kids, rather than waiting until it’s too late.

“You are seen to be one of them; they have ownership of you in a way that they won’t have with a counsellor,” he explains.

At Crown Casino, he has his own office and people can make a formal appointment but they usually don’t. “I meet all the new staff as part of the induction process, whether they are Christian or not,” he says. “Some people will love you straight off and see you as another person to ear bash, but your pitch has to be to normal people.”

Fr Grant admits that corporate chaplaincy is difficult and can be lonelier than other chaplaincies because there is not the defined role of school, prison or hospital chaplaincy.

It is also important not to be seen as part of the “picket line” or “factory floor” because management is paying for the chaplaincy.

“You have to be a-political and talk to the CEO, the managers…. everybody, or it won’t work.”

The stakes are high, according to Fr Grant: “We have lost our voice, religion has been privatised – it’s a private decision to go to Mass on the weekend, just like any other activity. We (the Church) are not involved in the daily life of the person who doesn’t come to Mass, so how are we going to get into their psyche?”

And there is a business case for companies financing chaplaincy. Fr Grant cites the CEO of Southern Cross Station in Melbourne who was not religious but knew that if chaplaincy stopped someone from leaving, it would save him $40,000.

While there are confidentiality factors to take into account, the chaplain can assist management by giving them statistical information and letting them know if there are employees who are “struggling”.

In addition to Crown and Southern Cross Station, clients of the Melbourne-based Chaplains Without Borders include Target, Melbourne Victory, Myer and Bendigo Bank.

Fr Grant has also begun negotiations with Adelaide United Soccer Club with the view to a five-hour commitment per week.

And he is optimistic about gaining support from Adelaide business people for a Catholics in Business event in the near future.

For more information visit www.chaplainswithoutborders.org and www.catholicsinbusiness.org

This article and photo by Jenny Brinkworth first appeared in the March 2014 edition of The Southern Cross, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Adelaide.