Episcopal Bishop Robert C. Wright on Monday joined Episcopal Chaplains The Reverend Donna S. Mote and Barbara Pendergrast at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to welcome the remains of Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio. Johnson is one of four U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers killed Oct. 4 in Niger when a joint US-Nigerien patrol was attacked.
Bishop Wright said he was honored to be part of the ceremony, an ongoing welcome for deceased service members regularly conducted by a volunteer group of Delta Airlines employees accompanied by airport chaplains.
Wright, who served for five years in the U.S. Navy, added “even Jesus marveled at the discipline and dedication of those who wear a uniform. We owe our service men and women much more than occasional moments of silence and our prayers."
The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta is part of the Interfaith Airport Chaplaincy (IAC) at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) that was founded in 1980 and throughout the intervening years has provided inter-religious emotional and spiritual care to passengers and employees at the world’s busiest airport.
Episcopal lay people of the Diocese of Atlanta were among the original chaplains of the IAC. The Reverend Donna S. Mote was assigned as Episcopal chaplain to ATL by Bishop Robert Wright in November 2013. Since January 2014, Barbara Pendergrast, a board-certified chaplain endorsed by the Episcopal Church, has volunteered with the IAC.
Along with three other IAC chaplains, Mote and Pendergrast, at the invitation of Delta Airlines, accompany military remains as they terminate in or transit through ATL on Delta. On average, Delta handles two service members’ remains daily in Atlanta. The chaplains bear witness to the dignified transfer of the remains and accompany the official military escorts throughout their time at ATL.
The Delta Honor Guard renders honors to the fallen who pass through ATL under the direction of Coordinator Brian J. McConnell, Sr, a 35-year veteran of Delta who has overseen the Honor Guard for 12 years and handled the remains of some 6,000 US military personnel. The Delta Honor Guard members are volunteers from work areas across the company; most of them are veterans, have a child or sibling currently serving, or both.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been the busiest airport in the world in terms of passengers every year since 1998. In 2016 104 million passengers traveled through ATL, an average of more than 275,000 daily. ATL is also the largest single site of employment in Georgia with over 63,000 employees.
The Diocese of Atlanta includes 114 worshiping communities located throughout middle and north Georgia. It is the ninth largest diocese of the 109 dioceses in the Episcopal Churches, which was founded in 1789.
The Diocese of Atlanta was created in 1907 and carved from the Diocese of Georgia. The oldest church in the diocese is Christ Church in Macon, which was organized in 1825. The newest are Christ the King, Lilburn, and St. Benedict's, Smyrna, organized in 2005 and 2006.
As part of the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Atlanta is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion of 70 million people in 38 provinces. The diocese has special companion relationships with several dioceses in Africa and South America.
By Don Plummer
Don Plummer is media and community relations director for the Diocese of Atlanta and attends St. Teresa’s Episcopal Church in Acworth, GA