[From the monthly newsletter of St. John's, Mobile] I have a confession to make: I’ve taken on a responsibility outside of my parish. Bishop Russell knows because I had to ask him to write a letter confirming my position in the diocese and recommending me. I know of only two other priests in the diocese that are also doing this work. What are we doing? We are working as volunteer chaplains for our respective Department of Public Safety divisions.
The Alabama attorney general convened a group of clergy in Mobile to discuss the opioid epidemic. There were presenters from several agencies, talking about the extent of the problem, its history, and current efforts to curb its continued growth. It was a great seminar, and I met a number of other Mobile clergy. A fellow sitting behind me, at one of our breaks, introduced himself and asked where I served. His name is Ed Connick, a Roman Catholic deacon and chaplain for the Department of Public Safety in Mobile.
So a few days after the seminar, I got a call from Chaplain Connick asking if I would be interested in joining the cadre of volunteer chaplains. I called him a couple of days later and said, “Yes.” We had a training class for the seven new chaplains at St. John’s Episcopal Church on July 27 and 28. Our instructors were Percy Harris and Ed Connick. Here’s our ‘class photo’:
From L to R: Dominic Grant, Keith Myrick, Patricia Evans, Thomas Heard, Morris Bettis, Dan Good, and Darius Evans.
Each of us is assigned to a police precinct and a fire house or two. I’m assigned to 3rd Precinct, along with Dominic Grant, Patrician Evans, and Mike Cook. I also have Station 9 at 1000 Houston Street and Station 23 at 2711 Airport.
Police officers and firefighters are a tough lot. They see things that no one should ever have to experience and their occupation puts them at risk on a daily basis. They also don’t open up or talk about things easily; we have to earn their trust.
I’ve been called out on two occasions. A firefighter was electrocuted rescuing kittens from an oven. He has returned to duty. The second call out was the night Officer Sean Tuder was killed. I joined five other chaplains at the police academy to work with the officers who were on shift. I spent a good deal of time with the officer who drove Tuder to the hospital. He’d only been in the department for about six months. Quite a baptism.
I think it is important for clergy, regardless of faith community, to be involved in their community. It necessarily needs to be in a way that can never be construed as proselytizing. Chaplaincy, whether in this particular capacity or any other is a perfect outlet. We are not there to ‘convert’ anyone; we’re to be part of a coping mechanism for folks undergoing stressful circumstances. We serve everyone, whether they are persons of faith or not. Our service is not exclusive to our police and firefighters, but extends to the victims of crimes, fires, accidents, or other incidents. We are there to be present, to let them talk, to answer questions, and provide ‘next steps’ information when possible.