Around ten years ago, I was asked to represent the Baptist churches in Norwich at a meeting organised by the emergency services. The meeting was to discuss the ways in which the faith community could help during a ‘critical incident’. A critical incident can be defined as follows:
A critical (or traumatic) incident is any event outside the usual realm human experience that is markedly distressing (e.g. evokes reactions of intense fear, helplessness, horror, etc.) Such critical incidents usually involve the perceived threat to one’s physical integrity or the physical integrity of someone else. Most importantly, critical incidents are determined by how they undermine a person’s sense of safety, security and competency in the world.
(Definition taken from the CISM International website, http://www.criticalincidentstress.com/critical_incidents)
Most of our conversations in this meeting focused on our potential responses to a terrorist attack. In what ways could a church support the traumatised? How would we organise ourselves and disseminate information about a critical incident? And so forth.
Nearing the end of the meeting, I was approached by a Police chaplain. He spoke a few brief words of introduction to me and then said, “You’re about 30 years younger than everyone else here. Would you be interested in becoming a Police chaplain? We need some new people.” I hurriedly made my excuses – mainly, centring on the fact that I was just about to start a Master’s degree. The chaplain smiled and said that he’d contact me again in a couple of years.
Sure enough, two years later, I was invited out for a nice lunch and a look around the local Police station. This led to a discussion with the leaders at my church and to great encouragement from them to explore Police chaplaincy, and see it as a new avenue of ministry and mission. Furthermore, we were encouraged by the Anglican Church (who provided the majority of local chaplains to the emergency services) to see such chaplaincy work as a Christian contribution to the life of the city as a whole. All of the various requirements fell into place and I took up a weekly commitment to accompany ‘Response’ officers to different emergencies and support them in the execution of their duties.
On my first visit, I found myself sitting in a car and zooming towards something called a ‘concern for safety’. As it transpired, an elderly man had died of a heart attack. The Police officer and I were tasked with contacting paramedics, forcing entry into the deceased’s home, contacting next of kin, neighbours, etc. My specific role was to talk to people, explain some aspects of the situation and try to reassure them. So began a ministry that has unfolded and grown in a vast number of different ways. In fact, it’s fair to say that every visit to the Police station has produced at least one unique incident that would warrant an anecdote and, quite possibly, a time of serious Christian reflection. Arriving at an incident is like arriving at a significant moment in a person’s life story (or, a significant moment in the life stories of several people). The privilege of being present is enormous; the challenge is, sometimes, considerable; and the attendant blessings are life changing.
I will resist the temptation to chronicle everything I’ve done with the Police in the last eight years. Instead, I’d like to divide the chaplaincy role into three distinct areas of responsibility and briefly explain, and illustrate each.
Chaplain to the Police. First and foremost, the calling demands that chaplains support officers as they go about their various duties. Different occurrences demand different interventions from a chaplain. For example, an officer was accidentally injured by a drug addict’s used syringe and had to undergo an arduous course of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). This involves taking anti-HIV medications. I met with both the officer and his wife to talk and pray. The latter activity was offered very carefully as chaplains must operate among people of all faiths and none.
Once, I was crewed with an officer who had just attended a horrifically violent assault. The victim of the assault died in her arms as she administered first aid and waited for the paramedics to arrive. I asked her what she had said to the victim in those last moments of his life. The officer explained that she had said kind, reassuring things: “It’s okay. Help is on the way. I’ve got you. Hold on for me.” In the course of our conversation, I was able to say to her that, before she arrived, the last words the victim had heard were the words of violence and hatred uttered by his murderer. Because of the officer’s arrival, the victim passed away receiving comfort and a measure of love. The officer was called too late to prevent the assault. However, her intervention had been a blessing in ways that were not immediately obvious.
Chaplain to the public. Both the victims of crime or unpleasantness, witnesses of crime or unpleasantness and perpetrators of crime or unpleasantness might need a chaplain! The grandmother, mother and daughter who were beaten up by a gang of teenage girls on their way home from the shops needed some support in making sense of what had happened to them. The man who found his friend’s body wanted to sit down and talk for a while. The shoplifter and drug addict chatted in the car as we drove him to the Police Investigation Centre. Later, once incarcerated, he asked to speak to me again and I was driven back to the cells to spend some more time with him.
Christian Police Association. The CPA is a wonderful organisation within the Police service that seeks to join Christian Police officers together for prayer and local meetings. Many Police stations have a weekly CPA meeting and Christian Police chaplaincy naturally supports these meetings. The CPA was founded over 125 years ago and, for their first anniversary, asked our own C H Spurgeon to be the guest speaker. Spurgeon gave a sermon entitled, ‘Why should a policeman be a true Christian?’ and finished with the words,
And Constable, remember, the Lord has apprehended you that you may apprehend others.
I wish for your Society many years of increasing usefulness, till all the world shall be covered with your organisation, and the Spirit of God shall be in every Policeman. Amen.
During my years of chaplaincy in Norwich, my home church became the host of various CPA gatherings, most notably, the ‘National Day of Prayer for Police’ – a very large and well attended event where local businesses, dignitaries and others gathered to pray for the Police and express their thankfulness to God for all that the Police do in our midst. As the years went by, I’m glad to say that several Christian Police came into membership of our church and became involved in the music, the homegroups and the leadership.
Police chaplaincy has changed me. The Lord has blessed me with new experiences of Him, new perspectives, new friendships and new concepts of mission. Above all, I have felt honoured to be allowed to support our country’s bravest men and women: those who journey purposefully to the darkest places in our society in the hope of bringing safety and justice; those who ‘stand in the breach’ on our behalf. May the Lord bless them.