MINNEAPOLIS -- Kelly Sherman-Conroy felt the anguish on the streets following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, concluding that people were aching for more than food and emergency relief.
So the Lutheran leader and Native American activist posted an appeal on Facebook for "clergy, spiritual leaders and mental health leaders who would like to serve as volunteer chaplains."
More than 100 faith leaders have stepped forward, fanning out at events ranging from State Capitol protests to food distributions to a Juneteenth celebration. They serve as compassionate listeners, helping hands and tension diffusers in stressful situations.
"We're not trying to convert anyone," said Sherman-Conway, minister of social justice and advocacy at Nativity Lutheran Church in St. Anthony. "We're around so that people have someone to talk to, if they want. And that happens a lot."
The group, loosely called Interfaith Volunteer Chaplains, can be seen at community events in bright orange shirts with "Chaplain" printed on the backs and with COVID masks on their faces. Their ranks include a minister who worked at the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York and a chaplain who consoled after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Sherman-Conroy said.
They show up only where invited and arrive with no preset agenda, said Sherman-Conroy. Their work has included handing out slices of donated pizza to the hungry at a church, sitting in the shaded grass with an exhausted woman waiting for groceries, and distributing bottles of water at protests while being attentive to the well-being of those taking them.
Before they head to the streets, the chaplains must attend online training led by Sherman-Conroy -- essentially a crash course on cultural sensitivity and trauma.
"The whole idea is to send in people trained a bit on how to be around people in trauma, how to be aware of their own actions, who understand the crisis mode of volunteering."
On Friday afternoon, Sherman-Conroy and several other chaplains headed to the emergency food distribution at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
She checked in with the other chaplains, then headed to the back of the line of hundreds of people waiting to pick up groceries. She casually made conversation with several, radar up for any unspoken issues.