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The Rise of the Corporate Chaplain

A growing number of company clergy are counseling American workers, one desk at a time
Elise Bissell, at Driver’s Village in Cicero, N.Y.
Elise Bissell, at Driver’s Village in Cicero, N.Y.Photograph by Gregory Halpern for Bloomberg Businessweek

Roger Burdick knows how to sell cars. Driver’s Village, his gigantic sales outlet in Syracuse, N.Y., is housed in a former shopping center, Penn-Can Mall, which went out of business in 1996. Four years later, Burdick bought the 80-acre property and in 2003 moved his dealerships to the building’s perimeter. As you circle the former mall you encounter one showroom after another, 360 degrees of cars. You can buy an Audi, BMW, Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, or Ford—and that’s just through the letter F. Inside the facility there are now about two dozen “shoppes,” including car rental agencies, a driving school, and law offices.

A portly, slow-talking, exceedingly polite Baptist, Burdick is the father of two children, whose mother he has married twice, once when he was still leading an un-Christian life—which led to their divorce—then again after he recommitted to the church. He subscribes to a literal reading of the Bible: He believes that God created the earth in six days, around 6,000 years ago, and that dinosaurs were wiped out by the Flood. Charles Darwin is “just a man that had a theory, and somehow the theory got into our textbooks as fact.” Burdick’s faith is integral to the way he runs his businesses. He closes his dealerships on Sundays. He says religious Christians gravitate toward his business, as customers and as employees, because they know of his beliefs. The most surprising evidence that Driver’s Village is a Christian business may be the eight part-time chaplains, six men and two women, who roam the dealerships offering employees friendship, advice, and—if asked—the good news of Jesus.