“When you serve 21,000 people, you’ve got 21,000 stories,” Fr. Greg McBrayer explained while sitting in the Command Center of American Airlines, a large conference room filled with screens and discussion microphone units overlooking the chaotic flight operations floor. Though McBrayer has thousands of stories to share, they are all small pieces of what makes up the story the Lord is writing through him.
In the middle of the busy operations floor covered by desk cubbies of several stacked monitors is a raised platform called “The Bridge.” This is where Fr. McBrayer, as Chief Flight Controller, sits.
“I came into the aviation world about 40 years ago and I’ve spent my entire adult life in flight control,” McBrayer said. He spent many years with US Airways in Pittsburgh, but after the airline’s merger with American Airlines in 2013, McBrayer was transferred to the Integrated Operations Center in Fort Worth, Texas.
“This is where it is run tactically every day,” McBrayer explained. “It’s also the place where God has called me to serve Him in ministry.”
McBrayer is a bi-vocational priest serving, now, in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Growing up in Georgia, he attended an Episcopal church with his father and the local Baptist church with his mother. He later found himself in the Lutheran church and began seminary training. But the events of September 11, 2001 spurred McBrayer to push ahead and take more seriously his call to ministry.
“At that time, we were going through a great deal at US Air and then 9/11 came and there was an even greater need,” he said. “There was a tremendous amount of anxiety in the profession, in all ranks throughout the industry. And, you know something, I was beginning to be used more in my ministerial role in that setting than I could be in a church.”
At that time, while employees were receiving solid health care benefits, they were not provided any spiritual health care. McBrayer saw this as an opportunity to build a holistic healthcare plan within the company.
“I went to senior leadership and I said, ‘Look, I’d love to come here on my own time, and if I could be provided space, offer Biblical study.’” McBrayer was given the space, but he realized he needed “to prove to them that it was something that was going to be healthy.”
Immediately, the ministry saw results. “It immediately started to grow. It crossed denominational lines. It really didn’t matter. It was just an opportunity to come together as Christians in a workplace setting on our own time, on breaks.”
And executives noticed.
“Management started seeing fruitfulness. They realized people were being more attentive in their jobs, it seemed like there was just a whole different feeling in the office. Attendance improved.”
With roots in Anglicanism, McBrayer began the Bible study ministry with Midday Prayer as its foundation.
“I ended up using the noon-day order as a way to start in prayer and have some structure. It had started off as a Bible study, but I realized it needed a bit of a worship component to it and so I pressed into the Prayer Book. I figured, you know what, why try to reinvent the wheel when we’ve got fathers who have been doing this for centuries.”
Now ordained, in 2009, as theological dispute rose within Lutheranism, McBrayer was encouraged by many to seek a new home in a new church, the Anglican Church in North America. With his background, it was a natural fit and he was welcomed into the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He continued to press into his ministry with the help of the liturgy as structure, offering both Word and Sacrament in the workplace as well as a consistent representation of Christ.
Walking around the operations floor, McBrayer was greeted by probably 90% of those we pass by. Donning his collar and black clerical shirt with a black sport coat embroidered with his Chaplaincy title in yellow on the right side of his chest, McBrayer stands out. His people, “family” as he calls them, notice him and appreciate him. He clearly has a presence that is unlike any other in the building. And, that presence is a constant reminder of what and who he represents – Christ.
McBrayer explained that while lay ministers can – and should – lead ministries within their companies, his ordination enhanced his ministry. “It gave opportunity to bring both Word and Sacrament into a secular setting.”
In the Command Center, used by senior executives to run the largest airline in the world with massive windows overlooking the flight operations floor housing several hundred employees 24/7, McBrayer holds Eucharist services.
“I can see through that window as I’m lifting up the cup and see the hundreds of people out there who can see this happening. That is all God,” he said. “[I have] the opportunity to marry and to bury.” He’s given last rights on the flight operations floor. He’s baptized his coworker friends of many years.
McBrayer’s ministry has now been incorporated into all of American Airlines. The entire company has his contact information to reach him for ministry needs. He has a hotline in which people all over the world can call in to his weekly services to participate from their desk. And, he can be deployed by the company at any time to travel for pastoral needs. He serves 6,000 people in his Fort Worth office alone.
On top of that, McBrayer also services countless thousands of passengers and employees of all walks of life who venture through the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. His position at American Airlines has provided him opportunity to become the director of the DFW Airport Chaplaincy, a separate but related ministry.
As the director of the airport chaplains, he leads services in the airport’s five chapels and oversees a staff of thirty who do ministry in the chapels and have a ministry of presence in the terminals. He prays over fallen soldiers and airline employees. He and his chaplains serve passengers, employees, and their families.
While so many travelers are unaware of the ministry going on around them, McBrayer and his team encounter those in desperate need. “You realize, people aren’t going to see Mickey Mouse. They’re going to bury people and to deal with life issues,” he described somberly of the life realities of travelers.
Walking through the modern airline facilities, as we passed blue backlights around elevators and full glass doors to offices and conference rooms, the stories rolled on, one after another. In the simple yet chic prayer room, one large table holds the Quran, Torah, Book of Mormon, and several Bible translations. The English Standard Version laid open to Proverbs in the center. This picture is a subtle representation of the diversity of the company and the beauty of the ministry McBrayer holds.
Looking at the diversity of the religious scripts on the table amidst the calm, quiet, white of the room, he shared one of his favorite testimonies. A coworker of his had married another co-worker, a Muslim. She had grown up Roman Catholic but converted to Islam upon marriage and was far more devout than her husband. But, in 2015, she began acknowledging the Spirit’s pursuit of her.
“At one point, she told me that she had begun having dreams, and flash backs, PTSD-type symptoms and that she was questioning her renunciation of Christ as a result of what had occurred early in her life. She said that she thought Jesus was reaching out to her and that she wanted to talk with me about it.” McBrayer met with her and then invited her to the Monday Bible study. “She soon began studying and worshiping with us and began to fully embrace her gradual turn back to Jesus.”
But, McBrayer says, “The truly amazing story is how Jesus used her conversion and our Monday ministry to bring her daughter into a saving relationship with Jesus.” The young woman’s first visit to the Bible study “brought her to a spiritual awaking and led to her accepting Christ as her Savior two days later.” She was eventually baptized by McBrayer and is now an active member of an Anglican church in Pittsburgh!
Really, it’s about “relationship and finding people where they are,” McBrayer says. “You have to take the Church to the world.” Speaking of the reality of work hours and the need to see our workplace as a mission field, McBrayer enthusiastically proclaimed, “you’re going to be here most of your life, so why not be used here. The need is tremendous.”
As he sees it, “the richest mission field in our country today is corporate America.”
But to serve “requires boldness. It requires a desire to serve God where He has placed you.” That goes for those with a collar and those without. It goes for you and for me.
“If you’re faithful in your commitment to Him, to serve in these places, the one thing I can tell you for sure is that He is going to be faithful,” McBrayer says. “The greatest reward I get is getting up every morning and getting to say, ‘you know what, God is going to use me today at American Airlines to do Kingdom work.’”
To hear more from Fr. Greg McBrayer, check out the Anglican Church in North America podcast here.