If you're traveling in the U.S. in 2018, there's likely a chapel tucked away in at least one of the airports you pass through.

According to my research, 16 of the country’s 20 largest airports have chapels, worship spaces, or meditation rooms, as do many more around the world. But very few people notice, or even know, they're there — or why.

My interest in airport chapels started as simple curiosity: Why do airports have chapels? Who uses them? But after visiting a few, I realized that they tell a much more interesting story about religion in America and how it's evolved over time.


[rebelmouse-image 19533569 dam="1" original_size="3053x1565" caption="Photo by brownpau/Flickr." expand=1]Photo by brownpau/Flickr.

How did airports come to have chapels, anyway?

The country’s first airport chapels were intended for staff, not passengers. They were established by Catholic leaders in the 1950s and 1960s to make sure their parishioners who were pilots, flight attendants, and airport staff could attend mass.

The first one in the U.S., Our Lady of the Airways, was built by Boston Archbishop Richard J. Cushing at Logan Airport, and it was explicitly meant for people working at the airport. A neon light pointed to the chapel and souvenir cards handed out at the dedication read:

“We fly to thy patronage, O Holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us away from all dangers, O glorious and blessed virgin.”

[rebelmouse-image 19533570 dam="1" original_size="800x450" caption="Our Lady of the Airways at Boston Logan International Airport. Photo by TUFKAAP/Wikimedia Commons." expand=1]Our Lady of the Airways at Boston Logan International Airport. Photo by TUFKAAP/Wikimedia Commons.

Our Lady of the Airways inspired the building of the country’s second airport chapel, Our Lady of the Skies, at what was then Idlewild — and is today John F. Kennedy — airport in New York City. And as the idea of the airport chapel caught on, other faiths followed suit.

The first was in New York — again at JFK. The Protestant facility was designed in the shape of a Latin cross and was joined by a Jewish synagogue in the 1960s. These chapels were located at a distance from the terminals — passengers wishing to visit them had to go outside. They were later razed and rebuilt in a different area of JFK.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Protestant chapels opened in Atlanta and in several terminals of the Dallas airport in Texas.

[rebelmouse-image 19533571 dam="1" original_size="640x425" caption="Orlando International Airport Chapel. Photo by brownpau/Flickr." expand=1]Orlando International Airport Chapel. Photo by brownpau/Flickr.

It wasn't until the '90s that airport chapels started to become more inclusive of multiple faiths.

By the 1990s and 2000s, single faith chapels had become a "dying breed." Most started to welcome people from all religions. And many were transformed into spaces for reflection or meditation for weary travelers.

The chapel at San Francisco International Airport, for example, known as the Berman Reflection Room for Jewish philanthropist Henry Berman (a former president of the San Francisco Airport Commission), looks like a quiet waiting room filled with plants and lines of connected chairs. A small enclosed space without any religious symbols or obvious connections to things religious or spiritual is available for services.

The scene at the Atlanta airport chapel is similar, with only a few chairs and clear glass entrances to provide space for quiet reflection.

[rebelmouse-image 19533573 dam="1" original_size="4592x2576" caption="Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport chapel. Photo by brownpau/Flickr." expand=1]Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport chapel. Photo by brownpau/Flickr.

But some airports retain indicators of their faith-based origins — like the one in JFK, which continues to hold its original "Our Lady" name.

Others include religious symbols and objects from a range of religious traditions. The chapel in Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, has multiple religious texts alongside prayer rugs, rosary beads, and artistically rendered quotes from the world’s major religions. Pamphlets on topics ranging from grief to forgiveness are available for visitors to take with them.

There's a uniformity in religion, but airport chapels operate by their own rules.

Each airport chapel has its own set of standards — but no two sets of rules are the same.

What is permissible in one city is often not in another. Often, local, historical, and demographic factors influence decisions. These could even be based on who started the chapel or how much interreligious cooperation there is in a city.

Certain airports, like Chicago’s O'Hare, have strict rules regarding impromptu religious gatherings, whether inside the chapel or out. Some use their public address systems to announce religious services. Others prohibit such announcements and do not even allow airport chaplains to put out any signs that could indicate a religious space.

[rebelmouse-image 19533574 dam="1" original_size="640x425" caption="Orlando International Airport Chapel. Photo by brownpau/Flickr." expand=1]Orlando International Airport Chapel. Photo by brownpau/Flickr.

Airport chapel culture has changed throughout time — and is bound to continue doing so.

Four of the largest American airports — Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York’s LaGuardia — currently do not have chapel spaces, although opening such a space is under consideration. In the interim, at LaGuardia, a Catholic chaplain holds mass in a conference room.

Each airport's chapel reveals something about its city. The variations within each space tell a story about local attitudes toward spirituality and travel and how those attitudes have changed over time.

On your travels, keep an eye out for these chapels. Note their similarities and differences and recognize how important local histories are to how matters of religion and spirituality are resolved — at airports and beyond.

This story originally appeared on The Conversation and is reprinted here with permission.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.