One of the doors of ministry that opened for me, in God’s providence, was that of police chaplaincy.
Somewhere around the year 2000 I began to ponder the idea of pursuing a place in spiritual service to the law enforcement community. I did not know any police chaplains, nor had I ever met or spoken with anyone of that ilk. I did not know how to go about entering that field of service, nor was I knowledgeable in the mechanics of serving in such a capacity. I only knew that the idea had both engrossed my mind and captivated my heart. This was something that I really desired to do.
Having now served as a chaplain for the Plymouth MN Police Department for nearly 14 years, I can testify without question that the Lord embedded that sentiment in my mind and heart. Around the time that my church, my workplace, and my residence all migrated to the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth, a letter arrived at church from the City of Plymouth inquiring as to whether there might be someone in our ministry who would be interested in police chaplaincy. The city was reestablishing a defunct chaplain program and was looking for volunteers. This was more than coincidence in my view.
I attended the initial, exploratory meeting at the Plymouth PD with great excitement. There were, in fact, eight Plymouth “clergymen/women” who responded to the city’s appeal, and all eight of us were, in time, invited to serve. When that initial meeting concluded, I clearly remember approaching the supervising Lieutenant to explore a further conversation. We stood in the door of the meeting room and I explained to him my vision for chaplaincy, assuming the department was favorable to my ideas. I had both an ultimate goal but also a genuine concern.
First, I expressed to him my ultimate goal. I explained to the Lieutenant that I had a strong desire to minister spiritually not just to the community (death scenes, notifications, general assistance, etc.) but also to the officers themselves. I told him that, as a professor of theology and not the pastor of a church, I probably had more time to invest in police chaplaincy than would a pastor. Pastors had flocks of people to whom they were responsible twenty-four/seven. I had no such “congregation.” Therefore, I said I wanted to make the police officers my “congregation.” I wanted to be available as a resource to the officers personally for encouragement, friendship, trust, and counsel. I also told the Lieutenant that I realized that such a goal would take years of bridge-building between me and the officers. I knew that I would have to expend multiple hours in constructing those bridges in hope, eventually, of growing strong enough relationships with these men and women to arrive at a personal level of trust. The Lieutenant was extremely heartened by that idea and encouraged me to move forward with it.
Second, I expressed my genuine concern. One of the oft forwarded injunctions to police chaplains is this: “Do not proselytize.” I heard it at that first meeting, and I have heard it since from countless other chaplains and agencies over the years. Here is what I said to the Lieutenant: “I completely understand the injunction not to proselytize, and I don’t imagine for a minute that I would last long as a chaplain if I hopped into a squad car for a ride-along and immediately opened a Bible and began to preach. I fully recognize the department’s concern. On the other hand, I am a ‘religious’ person with deep, spiritual beliefs. If an officer asks me a spiritual question, I intend to give him my answer based on my spiritual convictions. Is that okay?” The Lieutenant was perfectly fine with my understanding of the injunction. I have since had numerous and sometimes extended spiritual conversations based on my faith in Scripture and in the God of Scripture. Never once, to my knowledge, has anyone complained. I have the freedom to say anything I want, so long as the listener has initiated the discussion and so long as they wish to continue that discussion. I often summarize the situation this way, “If any of these officers wishes me to discontinue a spiritual conversation that they themselves initiated, they are fully capable of making that happen. After all, they are adults…and they carry guns!” My fourteen years with the Plymouth PD have been, in many ways, the most exciting of ministries that God has given me. I love my work as a professor. I treasure my opportunities as a police chaplain.
This essay is by Roy Beacham, Professor of Old Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
Let Every Mortal Ear Attend
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)
Let every mortal ear attend,
And every heart rejoice;
The trumpet of the Gospel sounds
With an inviting voice.
Lo! all ye hungry, starving souls
That feed upon the wind,
And vainly strive with earthly toys
To fill an empty mind.
Eternal wisdom has prepared
A soul reviving feast,
And bids your longing appetites
The rich provision taste.
Ho! ye that pant for living streams,
And pine away and die,
Here you may quench your raging thirst
With springs that never dry.
Rivers of love and mercy here
In a rich ocean join;
Salvation in abundance flows,
Like floods of milk and wine.
Ye perishing and naked poor,
Who work with mighty pain
To weave a garment of your own
That will not hide your sin,
Come naked, and adorn your souls
In robes prepared by God,
Wrought by the labors of His Son,
And dyed in His own blood.
Dear God! the treasures of Thy love
Are everlasting mines,
Deep as our helpless miseries are,
And boundless as our sins.
The happy gates of Gospel grace
Stand open night and day;
Lord, we are come to seek supplies,
And drive our wants away.