Three church pastors in northern US share what it’s like to be a civilian chaplain.
Unbeknown to many church members and supporters, local church pastors in some regions around the world who, on top of their multiple assignments and duties, minister to their communities by offering chaplaincy services. These pastors provide spiritual comfort, a friendly ear, or just a shoulder to cry on to law enforcement authorities, crime victims, and hospital patients.
Jacquie Biloff, communication director in the Dakota Conference church region, in northern United States, recently interviewed Christian Ronalds, George Shaver, and Michael Temple, three Dakota Seventh-day Adventist pastors who serve as civilian chaplains for law enforcement, prisons and hospitals. Below they share their experiences.—Adventist Review Staff
What was the catalyst for your interest in chaplaincy?
Christian Ronalds: When I was at Andrews University, in Michigan, United States, working on my Master of Divinity degree, I worked at the Adventist Information Ministries (AIM) call center for Adventist television ministries. If the It Is Written TV ministry, for instance, put a phone number on the screen for people to call, AIM would answer that call. AIM also offered chaplaincy and counseling services and served as a suicide hotline. I worked there for about three years.
George Shaver: My father was a policeman for a short time and I have two brothers and two sons in different branches of law enforcement, making me aware of the need for chaplains in law enforcement. While attending college in California, I had a friend in law enforcement who had to use his gun to stop a criminal on a killing rampage. I had the privilege of helping him work through the trauma created by that situation.
Michael Temple: We have a state trooper who is a member of our congregation. We were both attending a cookout and I asked him if the North Dakota barracks in this area had a chaplain. He helped me connect with those who could answer that question, and we went from there.
From left to right, Christian Ronalds, George Shaver, and Michael Temple. [Photo: Loren Nelson III, Dakota Conference]
What kinds of chaplaincy programs are available?
Ronalds: There are different aspects of career chaplaincy, including military, full time or reserve. Law enforcement chaplaincy seems to be voluntary. Institutional chaplaincy (prisons, organizations or businesses) and hospital chaplaincy are career positions.
Shaver: The volunteer chaplain program I am affiliated with deals with law enforcement and first responders. I also work with hospitals and nursing homes in the area. I have served in different branches of the military as a volunteer chaplain. My wife and I served as volunteer chaplains for both the federal and state prisons in our last district.
Temple: There are often positions in law enforcement departments, as well as with fire departments. I’ve had colleagues who are chaplains in city police departments.
Did you take special training beyond your pastoral degrees?
Ronalds: In this area, for hospital service a person needs CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) eductation, which includes at least four classes of special education and lots of practicum working in hospitals. It takes approximately a year and is a separate course from pastoral ministry.
Shaver: To be part of the chaplain group with which I am affiliated, you have to be in a ministry position in your church and take a special two-day course entitled the Police Chaplain Program.
Temple: In North Dakota, chaplains are required to be ordained ministers of the denomination they serve. I have also attended several training sessions provided by the state.
What are your current duties?
Ronalds: For the highway patrol, I offer moral support for officers as needed. A chaplain can be a confidential ear for the troopers, as we are not required to report personal conversations. I go along for death announcements providing support for the family of the deceased and may attend functions.
Shaver: I ride along with the officers and get to know them and their families. When there are fatalities we become involved in death notifications. When there are suicides or other difficult situations where a chaplain can be of assistance to the public, we respond.
Temple: I currently visit the barracks from time to time, attend functions where a trooper is being promoted to a higher rank, bring refreshments, do “ride-alongs” as I am able and am available for anyone who might wish to communicate on a spiritual level. Our law enforcement personnel are an invaluable and under-appreciated asset to our nation. I do what I can to let them know they are important.
What are your objectives and goals?
Ronalds: I see this as an opportunity to meet with a segment of the population I may not normally come in contact with, and through that, share Christ and the gospel. Law enforcement is a very difficult career. The remunerations they receive are nowhere near the value of the service they render. They need to be ministered to but they do not have anywhere to go. If I have an opportunity to minister to one officer, it will be worth it.
Shaver: I want our first responders to know that Jesus cares about them and I care about them, and that Jesus has solutions to help them deal with the lives they each lead.
Temple: There’s a term Ellen White used quite often: “disinterested benevolence.” That means to give and care regardless of the outcome—because it’s the right thing to do. Law enforcement officers have a tough job, and I want them to know they are important to me, and to their Heavenly Father.
This story was originally published in the Mid-America Union Conference Outlook Magazine.