A Guide for Movement Chaplains

the protest movement

Originally developed as Spiritual and Emotional Care during counter actions to White Supremist Hate Rallies, the Guide to Movement Chaplains focusses on holding a space for spiritual care during protest movements. Prepared for the “White Lives Matter” protests of 2017, this chaplaincy guide is also relevant to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

For those of us who are chaplains, healers, caregivers, and religious or spiritual leaders, there are always questions about how to show up in movement spaces like protests or counter-protests in ways that best channel our skills and strengthen the movement for racial justice and collective liberation.


The open marching and rallying of white supremacist hate groups in our communities is an act of violence whether they result in physical violence or not. These events trigger high levels of stress, anxiety, and fear in the communities where the rallies are planned and among organizers, activists, and community members who respond.

For those of us who are chaplains, healers, caregivers, and religious or spiritual leaders, there are always questions about how to show up in movement spaces like protests or counter-protests in ways that best channel our skills and strengthen the movement for racial justice and collective liberation.

There are no perfect answers in this document. Multifaith movements for justice are always in the process of learning. But one way to resist white supremacy is to use our skills to provide spiritual and emotional care to organizers, activists, and community members on the frontlines — to the people who participate in all types of actions from tension-filled counter-protests to more-removed community picnics held in response to white supremacist gatherings. These are the spaces where we must learn to better support each other, birth community narratives rooted in radical hope and love, and cultivate pastoral presence in situations of uncertainty, tension, conflict, violence, and trauma. We call this work “Movement Chaplaincy” and we believe that providing holistic care to frontline people is essential to movement building and working toward justice, equity, and collective liberation.

The bones of this document were created in preparation for a Movement Chaplaincy team from Nashville that provided care for counter-protesters and community members during the “White Lives Matter” protest in Shelbyville, Tennessee on October 28, 2017. We know, however, that white nationalist, white supremacist, and Neo-Nazi groups are planning rallies across the country. We hope this guide can help provide insight and direction to chaplains, healers, caregivers, and religious and spiritual leaders who are looking for ways to show up in response.

We share these insights with immense gratitude to the chaplains who lived out this work with us in Shelbyville and want to offer special thanks to Casey Miller and Sara Green for their role in helping prepare and coordinate, and to our many comrades and friends in the struggle from communities across the country whose courageous work this builds on.

In community, solidarity, and hope,
Margaret Ernst, Faith Engagement Fellow, Faith Matters Network
Rev. Lindsey Krinks, Education and Street Chaplaincy Coordinator at Open Table Nashville

Movement Chaplaincy on the Ground

Holding public witness or providing care on the streets in the context of counter-protests and community actions can look like many things. These are important roles can be played for direct actions and organizing in any context, not only for counter-actions to white supremacist rallies.


  1. Offering a “ministry of presence” by participating in and being a witness to what is happening and providing moral and spiritual support.
  2. Checking in with how people are doing emotionally, offering to listen, offering words of care or prayer, supporting people on the streets who have experienced trauma.
  3. Offering space for community organizing meetings,a safe house or safe haven during the action in case physical violence or mental health emergencies arise, and a healing place for “aftercare” when the action is over.


  • To care for ourselves and each other beforehand so we can be emotionally and spiritually present during the action.
  • To care for the spiritual, emotional, and mental health needs of frontline people, protesters, organizers, street medics, and safety team members.
  • To be a calming, centering, pastoral presence through our actions, words, and the energy we bring.
  • To attend to people who are triggered, traumatized, injured, or experiencing emotional, mental, or spiritual distress.
  • To use rituals and prayers when needed/requested to foster spiritual grounding, solidarity, and healing.
  • To use our role to advocate for protesters’ needs with authority figures.
  • To coordinate with organizers, volunteer street medics and safety team members to communicate about our role and keep people safe.
  • To help facilitate movement to a safe house (such as a local church or community house) if/when things become unsafe and/or for people who experience trauma.
  • To help people connect with healing resources and provide aftercare when possible.


the protest movement


Insights for Movement Chaplains and Religious / Spiritual Leaders

  • On interacting with police: As a religious or spiritual leader, it’s important to not be co-opted into enforcing aggressive policing tactics that make marginalized people unsafe and which suppresses dissent. Clergy and chaplains who are not trained in situations of tension can feel the need to calm tensions or their own anxieties, and often begin with seeking out police for help. Police will also often look to people who are publicly identified to try to get them to follow police’s instructions. It’s important to acknowledge and live in this tension, to leverage your gifts and status in ways that also seeks to dismantle clergy privilege, not furthering it, at protests and counter-protests.
  • Respectability versus supporting: Protesters may express themselves in ways that don’t seem “holy” or “spiritual.” That’s okay. The job of spiritual caregivers is not to police people’s expression into what seems respectable, nor to try to calm tensions so as to ease our own anxieties. Rather, we can play a role of ministry of presence to be amidst those who are outraged at injustice without judgement, while also paying mind to the ways we can provide care to those who may be experiencing trauma in that space.
  • On when to bring out the faith tools (like prayers or rituals), and how: Spiritual abuse from religious communities can be triggered by loud public praying. In this role, we are taking an interfaith stance which means that we meet everyone where they are and don’t impose any of our beliefs, traditions, or world views on them. We are putting our deep listening skills into practice in this space and if someone requests prayer, we can ask them what they want us to pray for and how they address a “higher power” and use that language. It’s okay to offer prayer, oils, or other rituals, but we never impose and always respect where the person is and what they want/need.
  • Self awareness: Be aware of your own privileges and how you come across to others. How do people of other racial/ethnic identities experience you? How to people of other gender expressions experience you? Before attempting to provide care, ask yourself if you are the best person to engage this person/situation or is there someone else on your team who could be perceived as more ‘safe’ and trustworthy? Do you best to be self-aware, mindful, and sensitive when providing care.
  • On religious paraphernalia: Wearing religious paraphernalia to show visible clergy status on the side of counter-protesters can be a vital symbol that communicates that our faith traditions can and should be on the side of resistance to white supremacy and collective liberation. However, there are also important things to consider when making the decision about how to publicly identity as clergy or spiritual care providers. First off, to consider – do you see your role as providing care to counter protesters, or about symbolically representing your faith tradition’s presence? A chaplain role is different from a clergy/ religious leader’s role, so being clear on how you’re showing up is important when making the decision about how to identify with your clothing.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, white Christian clergy in religious garb were viewed by white supremacist groups as “traitors,” thus escalating their aggression. If you are white clergy, this does not mean to not wear religious paraphernalia, however to take this information into account in your risk assessment when making decisions about wearing religious garb.

For serving in a chaplaincy role, keep in mind that counter-protesters will be from many faiths and spiritual traditions as well as from no faith backgrounds at all. Having a symbol that is affirming of all traditions can be helpful in making chaplains more safe and accessible. An alternative to wearing clergy religious paraphernalia that can still indicate your role as clergy is to wear a shirt, vest, or hat that says chaplain/clergy.

For the Shelbyville, Tennessee action, the chaplain team wore purple hats that said “CARE” across the front, purple bandanas, and purple patches with an interfaith symbol. Writing “CARE” on the hats was chosen intentionally instead of “Spiritual Care” or “Chaplain” partly because spiritual wellness in mass protest settings (and other environments) is intimately intertwined with physical, emotional, and mental wellness. “CARE” reminds people that chaplains are there to attend to their holistic wellness.


Movement Chaplains wearing the CARE caps
Chaplains wearing the CARE caps – and the Interfaith Arm patches


Read more in the Movement Chaplaincy Guide



The Protest Movement
The Protest Movement