Saturday, October 8, 2011

Thank you! Welcome! You can do this too!


We've been thrilled and overwhelmed by all the warmth and excitement we've received in the last few days. Our group is trying to sort through emails right now in addition to keeping the Spirituality tent up & running and scheduling the beautiful variety of services being held at the tent. If you've emailed us, we WILL get back to you! 

Clergy and laity from all over the country are asking how to create Protest Chaplains at their own city's #Occupy movement, and since August, we've intended for the Protest Chaplain concept to be something easily picked up, adapted, and used by anyone, wherever.

To that end, and while we try to sort through emails, here's what you can do:
1. Set up an email for your city. "" works. Post it in the comments. That way people can start finding each other directly.
2. Grab your friends. Make some signs. Show up at your local event. People will find you. Collect email addresses. Make a facebook page and/or Twitter account. Then email us and we'll make a page of local Protest Chaplains/Spirituality groups.
3. Host a discussion about Occupy Wall Street at your church, synagogue, community center, etc using this guide from the Interfaith Worker Justice folks. All you need is one gentle person who is a strong discussion facilitator. It's amazing how much emotion there is surrounding this protest.

We're working on getting some guidelines/collected wisdom of experience so far/resources together, but in the meantime, this ought to be enough to get you off the ground.


The big lesson we've learned is that showing up matters.  Here's how we see that working.

1. Religious symbols are still amazingly powerful. If you're clergy, wearing your gear and showing up is basically all you need to do. Some folks might think it's a "costume." This is both hilarious and sad: one guy told us in New York that we were the first Christians he'd ever seen at a protest - at least, on his side. Then be prepared to listen. (See more about listening below.)

2. Every city is different. What you & your group can & can't do is going to depend a lot on the physical space. In New York, where no tents are allowed and the cops are always cracking down, the Chaplains' presence had to be mobile: we wore albs, carried a cardboard processional cross, and sang. In Boston, we have an interfaith spirituality tent, which functions as organizing center and opportunity for silence amidst the city noise. Consider what's most useful in your city.

3. Humor covers a multitude of sins. Plenty of people have been burned by religion. Many of us have too. One of the ways people will figure you out and decide whether you're "OK" or not is by poking at you a bit to see how you'll react. Please don't get all weird and authoritarian. Get your Beginner's Mind on. Religious folks have more to learn from OWS than OWS has to learn from us. If you don't take yourself too seriously, you'll build trust. Which leads to #4:

4. YOUR JOB IS NOT TO DEFEND YOUR RELIGION, SO DON'T. Even in the most aggressive, unfair criticisms of any particular religion, there is a legitimate concern underneath. If this comes up in conversation, acknowledge it. You probably agree anyway. If someone tries to engage you in an argument, don't take the bait. Practice nonviolent communication and active listening. Ask the person how they describe their most closely held beliefs, hopes, griefs. Focus on practice. How do they find quiet and recharge when they get burned out? We've found these conversations to be incredibly moving. You'll hear a lot of "how religion screwed me over" stories. You might be the first "religious" person to ever listen compassionately to these stories. We've been stunned at how intense a need there is for this kind of listening. It's a huge gift you can give.

5. Sing, don't shout. It's almost impossible, especially if you're organizing as Christians, not to sound like an angry lunatic even if you try to do even the gentlest of "readings." Unless, of course, you're able to organize a service. For services, have one person volunteer to be the greeter as people come by and want to know what you're doing. That way everyone will be welcomed and the service can go on uninterrupted. Oh, and SMILE. This is fun, remember?

6. DO NOT PROSELYTIZE. That's not OK. That's not what chaplains do. The Occupy movement is about working together despite the fact we all have our single issues and existing organizational work etc. Not only is proselytizing obnoxious, it's detrimental to the movement. (And we won't claim ya.)

7. Be a resource. Do you have info for mental health crisis resources/shelters/foodbanks? That will be helpful. People who are disoriented/lost/high/upset etc will quickly get referred to you if you have a visible presence. Make friends with the medics - you'll need to work together.

8. Let what happens, happen. We have a word for this anyway: faith. The first night of Occupy Boston, before we even had a tent, we hadn't even finished laying out some camping pads and battery-operated candles before random people sat down & started meditating. If you build it, they will come. It's beautiful. Give thanks. And don't pretend for a second that you have any control over any of this. Enjoy the ride!

9. Chaplains don't work alone. Neither should you. Can't find anyone? Try posting on Craigslist. Or, just show up with a sign, and see who finds you. Let the Holy Spirit do her thing.

10. Be rhetorically sensitive. Try to consult people who have done interfaith work about language for God/the sacred/what you hold dearest. We did an Inter-And-No-Faith Dinner Blessing in NY and even that bit of irreverence made it not scary for people who can't stand religion. After that, one woman approached us and said this was the first time she had seen religion do something positive. It's about the welcome. We're not trying to create divisions, but uncreate divisions.

Now go forth in the name of peace and enjoy this wild moment in history! Alleluia! Let us know how it goes!


  1. In New York:

  2. Bay Area (thus far, SF, OAK and Berkeley):

  3. Those looking to help out with chaplaincy at #occupykst can hook up with me at We are a different group from the Stop the Machine group who are on Freedom Plaza.

    Rev. Brian Merritt

  4. If the NYC occupiers get kicked out of Zuccotti Park, can you work with Trinity Wall Street to see if their congregation might be willing to offer them safe haven and space to continue the occupation? Perhaps near the cemetery?

  5. I am very pleased to find this group. I'd love to help start a Dallas chapter. I marched on Thursday with the "Occupy Dallas" folks, and plan to go to show my support again. I also wrote this blog/sermon about the movement yesterday:

  6. Any Oregonians out there interested in setting up an Occupy Portland Chaplaincy?



  7. If churches followed these rules, we wouldn't be able to build enough pews to accommodate all the new members. Nice job.

  8. This is wonderful and awesome! Here's something to consider that could go right along with the good work Protest Chaplains has already begun: . It could be an especially good opportunity for those already involved to invite those who haven't yet been called to be involved...

  9. we're in the process of getting the OccupyMN protest chaplains up and running. If you want to be involved, go here:

  10. @robbeck, we are in the process of setting up Occupy PDX Chaplains. There will be a Facebook group and Twitter account soon. Keep an eye out around the camp for notices.

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  12. @robbeck :


    twitter: @Occupypdxigc


  13. Protest Chaplains Chicago:!/pages/OccupyChicagoSpirituality/137529499681955?sk=wall


    The Rev Yossi Lopez-Hineynu, OUnI
    Interfaith Minister

  14. WOW are you clueless or just not saved yourselves? the OWS is demonic and anti-God. it is all about serving SELF. To praise the total misuse of Scripture with the reference to bless are the poor is foolishness. Capitalize was formed from men like John Calvin that got the principles from Christianity. DO NOT PROSELYTIZE??? Really? so you would really let people go to hell so that they will like you? seriously are you kidding me.

  15. Update for CHICAGO:

    email is changed slightly:

    Spiritual Affairs Committee meeting after the 7pm GA at The Horse, Sunday, 30 October.

  16. Facebook page has new name: Protest Chaplains Chicago