Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chaplain 8

Isn't it amazing how much emailing has become a part of everyday life? One of the wonderful blessings of email is hearing from people you might never hear from if it weren't for the ease of online communication. Every now and then I get an email from out of the blue, from someone I hadn't thought about in years, and it opens a floodgate of memories that take me back to a time I haven't reflected on in ages.
The other day I received an email from one of the first policemen I met the very first day that I began as a Police Chaplain for the Fairfax County Police Department. Sergeant Jay was probably the most excited cop at the station to find out they had a Chaplain. They weren't all that excited to have a chaplain at first. I still remember walking down the stairs with the Captain of the station as he took me to meet the guys at my first roll call meeting. Coming down the stairs I remember hearing one of them say, "Who the ________ needs a chaplain?" Jay was (and is) a devout Christian, and he was thrilled to get any spiritual emphasis at the Chantilly station that he could. I remember riding with him on many occasions and being impressed with how much he cared about God and the men in his squad. He was a good man and a source of a lot of good memories.
The job of being a Police Chaplain was a volunteer position and totally up to me to make it what I wanted it to be. The officers had no obligation to call on me or use me to help with anything. They didn't even have to let me ride with them. So the first order of the day was to prove myself and make myself valuable to them. I rode with everyone I could and made a lot of friends quickly, but it took my first "Chaplain" call over the radio to give me a chance to prove myself. AND, it was Sergeant Jay who called for me. I was riding with Pete, a young go-get-em officer who actually was raised in the church of Christ. We heard the call of a traffic accident w/ possible fatalities. It clearly turned into a madhouse as it was discovered that a sixteen year old boy riding a bike on the side of the highway was struck and killed by a guy who was drag racing his car, left the road, hit the boy, and flew his car off into the trees way off the road. The boy's parents and friends showed up quickly, and the scene was getting very tense as they demanded to see if it was their son who was killed. And then the call came over the police radio, "See if Chaplain 8 can respond to this location." I was scared to death. It's a long story, but the end result was that I truly helped the police and the family and greatly increased the officers' appreciation for Chaplains. I'll always remember one of the gruff old veterans saying, "Well Chaplain, you were worth you're weight in gold tonight."
That was 1980 and I served as a Police Chaplain until the middle of 1988. By then I simply had no time to ride or even be called to help. The church had been growing, we had three services on Sunday morning, our children where getting bigger and I needed all my extra time to be with family. It was a wild ride. Especially those first two years when I did so many death notifications and got to help so many people. The Detective department chaplain, when they finally got one, as well as the homicide detectives themselves, took over almost all the notifications during my second year especially since all traffic fatalities started being under their department too. My first book, Rev, was based on those first two years of being a Chaplain.
I am thankful for the experiences, though sometimes memories pop into my head that I'd like to forget - especially ones involving children. God was preparing me to be a better servant. I learned crisis intervention and I learned how to deal with tragedy. Mostly, I learned that I never want to deal with this life without having a loving heavenly Father to see me through it. And I'm thankful for memories of good people - like Sergeant Jay. He really did see his job as protecting and serving, but his serving also included serving God.


Deborah said...

What a cool story! I love that he contacted you after all these years. You have to imagine that he was sitting at his computer, then thought, "I wonder what ever became of that Mike Root guy?" Then, he Googled your name and found you. (I'm just assuming that's how it happened.)

Yes, in times like this, I love the blessing of online communication.

Side note: Could that have possibly been 20 years ago that you STOPPED being a chaplain?!

Jeff Goforth said...

...and not to mention the effect you had on the police officers you preached to....Thanks Brother!!!

Inez said...

"Rev" was one of the first books of yours I read. It was very good. Have you thought about a sequel?