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On Approach with Layne Daggett: Vancouver Airport Chaplain

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the Vancouver Airport Chaplaincy. To help recognize the milestone we are featuring Layne Daggett for this month's On Approach. Layne served as the Airport Chaplain from '83 to '89, then again from 2001 to present. With the Chapel reaching 10,000 visitors this past year, Layne and the rest of the folks at the VAC truly make a difference every day at YVR.

When did you start working at YVR and what are some of the changes between the terminal then and now?

In the early 1980’s some CP Air Flight crews had asked me to conduct two weekly Bible Studies discussion groups in their Operations Center. The present Chapel chases its roots to that humble beginning. Vancouver Airport Chaplaincy (VAC) officially opened the Chapel on June 15, 1983 at what I affectionately called a “converted” ticket counter in what is now the Domestic Departures area. YVR has more than doubled its operation since then (in 1983 there were 11,000 employees and 7 million passengers) and of course we did not have the beautiful and impressive International Terminal we now enjoy and call home.

What are people looking for when they visit the chapel?

Sometimes they just want a quite place to pray, meditate, and recharge spiritually: an oasis in hustle and bustle. A source of tranquility in a sea of life’s turbulence.

Often they are upset because of some real life trauma they are facing. Or they are referred to us by CBSA, RCMP, airline staff, Green Coat volunteers, Customer Care counters, etc. I love it when they say something like, “The first thing I want you to know is that I am not very religious.”I smile as I shake their hand and thank them for their honesty and say something like “When you get to know me you’ll discover I’m not very religious either, so we have a lot in common.”

How does working at an airport chapel differ from other religious centres?

By its very nature an airport chapel is quite unique from other religious institutions. It is even different from other chaplaincies in the military, universities, prisons or hospitals. Some contacts with people are by their very nature brief and fleeting. But on the other hand some relationships with staff go deep and are long-term.

YVR Chapel is also quite unique from most airport chapels, because from its inception we were very intentional about having warm and friendly volunteer staff available and being a chaplain being available 24/7/365. It is more than a place; it is people with a heart and compassion for other people. Although we sometimes fail miserably, we want to do for others what we would want done for us if we were stranded, confused, lonely, discouraged, upset, fearful or in a strange land.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love getting to relate to people – most of the time! It is a sacred trust to be invited into peoples’ lives who need someone to come along side them during some very personal and often live changing struggles (terminal illnesses, death of a loved one, refugees and deportees, marriage, divorce, family and work issues). It also increases my own personal faith to see how God is at work before and after my rather brief encounter with people.

To mark the 30th Anniversary of the Chapel at YVR this year, can you share one of your favourite memories?

It was midnight on Good Friday when Canada Immigration called me. They had two refugee claimants that they wanted me to assist if I could. I took them to the chapel to relate to them and try to determine where I could place them. I asked them “Are you married?” She answered, “Yes” and he said “No!” Then we all burst out in laughter! Ali (not his real name) then explained that he was from Iran and Marilee (not her real name) was from Afghanistan and that they had just met in Immigration. Thinking that Marilee’s husband might be in Canada, I asked, “Where is your husband?” She said “He is in New York and I haven’t seen him for seven years”. Then she told me their sad story.

She and her husband had fled Afghanistan at the time of the former Soviet Union invasion and had fled eventually to India where her husband had been accepted by the U.S. but she had been denied because they didn’t believe they were married. I asked her if she had a phone number for her husband and she said a mutual friend had sent her a number for him but she had not been able to contact him. After calling former employers and places of residence and much sleuthing, we finally tracked him down. She called and spoke with her husband for the first time in seven years. They talked … and talked … and talked, while Ali and I chatted about his situation and thanked God that the phone call was after hours or I wouldn’t be able to pay for the bill!

Then she said “He talk to you,” and handed me the phone. The husband said, “You have my wife in Canada? You are a good man?”  “Yes, you can trust me. She is in Vancouver.” “How near is that to Montreal?” “Oh, very far, near Seattle.”  “Oh ….. I was going to walk to see her tomorrow, but it such a long, long walk.”

After setting them up in a local bed and breakfast, I arranged to meet with Ali and Marilee Saturday morning to explain what was going to be happening to them while they waited for their refugee hearings.

Easter Monday a gentleman walked up to me at the chapel and said, “Do you still have my wife?” He explained that his co-workers chipped in together to buy him a ticket from New York to Vancouver. I called Marilee and said someone wants to talk to you. “Is it Immigration?” “No, someone better than Immigration!” “Oh, is it my husband? Oh I am afraid to talk to him because I am afraid he does not love me any more.” I said, “Anyone who was willing to walk to Montreal still loves you!”  I put them up that night in what was then the Richmond Inn. In a couple of days he returned to New York.

It took six months and a lawyer’s intervention, but we were able to get Marilee processed so she could join her husband in New York. Not that Christmas, but the following I received a Christmas card from them and a birth announcement. “We want you to know that we have been blessed with a son. We have called him “Layne” and we will never forget you!”

You are such a fixture in the airport community and with your upcoming retirement, you will be greatly missed. Will you come back and visit us from time to time?

I have jet fuel in my blood and warm friendships in my heart. My wife keeps pushing me to be a Green Coat! I will be back!

Photo is courtesy of The Province. To learn more about Layne you can also read their story published recently. Thanks to Layne for his particpation and the amazing work he does every single day at YVR.

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