Skylar Freimann, a Portland resident with a terminal heart condition, sat in a recliner in her assisted living apartment. She was anxious to see her new hospital bed.

The Rev. was there to help her on this journey. Jo Laurence was a hospice and palliative-care chaplain. She spoke of meditation, chanting, and other Eastern spiritual traditions, rather than invoking God, or praying to the Christian God. “Where is the divine and sacred in your decline?”

Laurence, a Sufi minister who is also a Zen Buddhist practitioner, brings many years of meditation practice to the table and scriptural training to help end-of-life patients. He is part of a growing generation of Buddhist Chaplains who are becoming more common in prisons, hospices, and hospitals where there was heightened demand during the pandemic.

Buddhists are now leading a diverse field of work that includes Wiccan, Muslim, and Wiccan chaplains, a profession that was once dominated by Christian clergy in the U.S. Buddhist chaplains claim they are uniquely placed for the times because of their ability to appeal across a wide cultural and religious spectrum. This includes the increasing number of Americans who identify as nonreligious.

Recent years have seen an increase in study opportunities and training opportunities. These include the Buddhist Ministry Initiative at Harvard Divinity School, and the Buddhism track at Union Theological Seminary. Union Theological Seminary is an ecumenical Christian liberal Seminary in New York City. The new low-residency hybrid degree in chaplaincy at Colorado’s Naropa University is a Buddhist-inspired liberal art college. The New York Zen Center of Contemplative Care offers accredited training in chaplaincy. The Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe offers a two-year chaplaincy program.

“The programs are expanding so it seems that there is a growing demand from students.” “And the students seem to be finding work after graduation,” Monica Sanford, an assistant dean for Multireligious Ministry and ordained Buddhist minister, said.

The past saw hospitals and police department often hire Buddhist chaplains to minister to Asian immigrant groups. They served as chaplains to Japanese American soldiers during World War II. They are now more common.

Sanford and a colleague published a unique report this month that identified 425 chaplains across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. However, the researchers believe there may be many more. The Mapping Buddhist Chaplains of North America report revealed that more than 40% of them work in health care. Others work in schools, prisons, or as counselors for the self-employed.