WRAL.com at the State Fair

Volunteer Chaplains

Posted October 18, 2006 2:25 p.m. EDT

I've always been bemused by the signs in the bathrooms and various places around the Fair mentioning the availability of chaplains for Fair workers and volunteers. I'm not able to decide if a midway is the first or last place in the world to have an existential dilemma. Turns out that since the age of cell phones, the role of volunteer chaplains has changed a lot. But they -- and affiliated groups -- do far more than I realized to support the workers and volunteers at the Fair (no existential dilemmas necessary!)

I sat down with George Fuller, founding pastor of New Community Church and Fair volunteer, and talked to him about his job of coordinating several hundred volunteers across several groups to serve the employees of the Fair. "We go beyond spiritual support to material support," he said. A soup kitchen is set up for Fair employees as a place for them to get a free hot meal, including pastries and coffee in the morning. Free dental care and a doctor are also available. A trailer that normally serves during disasters takes in and does laundry for employees and volunteers.

That's a lot of service! But chaplains still have to offer spiritual and emotional support. Before the age of cell phones, George explained, chaplains were often called to track down people at the Fair with bad news or emergencies. (A lot gentler, he noted, than being summoned via the fairgrounds paging service.) Nowadays cell phones mean that more people have immediate family contact -- chaplain shifts have been reduced from a dozen to less than half-a-dozen people at a time -- but there's still some need to find people, bring them bad news, and support them.

And humans being what they are, there's still drama, despite the fact that it's being played out against a background of roller coasters and turkey legs. George sees the chaplains as part of a network that can provide support, direction or other services, or just a willing ear. "We're not here to evangelize," he emphasized, "We're here to serve. And when you get thousands and thousands of people together in one place, things are bound to happen."