Bill Chapman is an expert on storms. He’s a Florida native who weathered Hurricanes Charley, Jeanne and Francis like a pro before moving to Huntsville—his wife was actually six months pregnant when those three hurricanes pummeled Florida in the span of just a few weeks. These days he’s not so much worried about the tropical depressions threatening his community as he is about the storms of life hitting us all every now and then.
Corporate Chaplains of America is a little different from most outreach groups. In order to work there, you have to have a mix of real-world and ministry experience. So instead of talking to a pastor who has never held a 9-to-5 office job, you’ll be talking to someone who worried about commissions and layoffs.
From Sales to Seminary
Bill was raised in a Christian home, but it wasn’t until he was in his late 20s that he accepted Christ, and his faith began to grow. It wasn’t long before he knew he was meant to be in ministry, but he also knew he needed to mature a little before pursuing that career.
After spending the first part of his career in corporate America, he started seminary at age 35 and became a pastor at 39.
After several years in full-time ministry, Bill and his wife went out to California for a short-term opportunity to help train others for ministry. When that ended and Bill started looking for a new job, Corporate Chaplains of America presented him with the perfect position—by moving to Huntsville, Bill could use his business background to relate to people at their workplace and his experience in ministry to help them through their struggles. Even better, he would be back in the South, closer to family.
Now Bill spends his days traveling to different businesses like Wilson Lumber to talk with the employees. He’s not there to preach. He comes to make friends with the workers.
“I help people walk through every possible personal crisis that you could imagine,” Bill said.
He has a special perspective on corporate life—before he was involved in outreach, Bill worked for more than a decade in the sales and mortgage industry. Note, however, that if you’ve seen the Bill Chapman real estate signs around town, that’s not him.
“Having been a sales guy for 12 years helps me to really understand and relate to the things that my sales people go through, but also my people who are in more of an operations or production type of role because I work with those people all the time,” Bill said.
Pastor vs. Chaplain
If you’re a little confused about the difference between a pastor and a chaplain, you’re not alone. But Bill has a good definition.
“A pastor is a ministry leader in the church, and a chaplain is a ministry leader in a different venue,” Bill said. “My venue is the workplace, and most chaplains work in a hospital or in the military setting. … The purpose of the chaplain’s work that I do is essentially … to build caring relationships in the hope of gaining permission to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a non-threatening manner.”
Many of the job tasks between pastor and chaplain overlap. Bill does everything from hospital visits to crisis care, but instead of having a church group to work with, Bill is available to everyone who works at his companies. What sets his job apart even more is that not all of the people he works with are Christians. Sometimes they just need someone to listen, and that’s okay. Bill has taken a vow not to push the Gospel on anyone without their permission.
“That’s a way to describe what I do,” Bill said. “I’m a caring friend to each of my employees, checking in on their well-being.”
Let’s Talk Football
So what can a chaplain talk about with people who work in a lumber yard? There’s probably a Jesus-was-a-carpenter reference in there somewhere, but that’s a long walk for a short drink of water. Instead, Bill works hard to make friends.
“When you build a relationship with someone, you want to get to know them,” Bill said. “You want to hear about their family, their background, their interests, the thing they’re passionate about.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the major topics in the lives of Alabama workers is college football.
Of course they talk about other things, but Bill isn’t getting into details. Like any good friend, he will keep your secrets to the very end.
Wilson Lumber was built on Christian principles, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that they enlist the assistance of outside help to make sure their employees are taken care of spiritually as well as physically and financially.
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