The title here, as some of you may know, is the “by-line” for Peace Officer Ministries, Inc. (POM) Truly, it is the pithy way to express how we see our mission – from the Mission Support Coordinator, ensuring all the bureaucratic stuff is handled, to the Board of Directors who monitor and seek to foster this as a healthy non-profit mission, to the Executive Director and Chaplain trying to put theological rubber to the road of law enforcement reality.
Many ask, “What is the role of the Chaplain?” Some parishioners even ask this of their pastor wondering just what is it they are really doing! While, I’m not sure eight or nine hundred words will do it justice, what follows is a sketch of what it means to be a chaplain.
In most cases, the chaplain for a law enforcement agency is a voluntary, unpaid position. This is not always a bad thing. There is then usually no budget to support or limit the chaplain. He answers to the Ultimate Peace Officer, Jesus. The chaplain serves at the pleasure of the head of his particular agency.
More often than not, most agencies require that the chaplain have the permission of the church he represents. This is a good thing. As members of the community, churches usually are seeking to be of good service. Here, their support of the chaplain extends this support to the law enforcement community. And, believe it or not, many local pastors have an ‘in’ with some parts of the community and can serve as bridge between your agency and the public.
This does not mean, however, that some don’t misunderstand law enforcement chaplaincy. Some think that as a chaplain I go to the State Prison and lead devotions. (No! A thousand times, No.) Some think this is ministry for the prisoners at the County Jail. (Again, No!) Neither is even remotely true – see the tag-line above! The law enforcement chaplain’s primary objective is to serve the peace officers of his particular town, county, and/or state.
In the years subsequent to 9/11 we, as a nation, have become more aware of the sacrifice that first responders make. As a chaplain (and a pastor) I want to show appreciation to peace officers in as many ways as I can. I know that it is to them we turn when we are in trouble. As we flee danger they run toward it – serving and protecting. They often personify what the Ultimate Peace Officer described: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Having experienced this as a peace officer, having family members who are and have been peace officers, I am moved to want to continue my ties to law enforcement by ‘serving those who protect and serve us.’
This is why, after retiring from law enforcement, I have pursued chaplaincy (even, and especially in this politically correct day-and-age when some insist on delivering a flavorless oatmeal watered-down message – alas, maybe an article for another day!)
Revert to Your Training
During my academy training and later in-service training, there was an understanding that when the ‘stuff hit the fan,’ you would ‘revert to your training.’ Thus, training became important preparation – it changed you not only physically, but it changed your mindset too. (Just ask my wife who still gets a laugh watching me wanting the ‘gun-slinger’ seat when we go to a restaurant.)
This is another way that Peace Officer Ministries seeks to serve the law enforcement community. We train chaplains to understand what their role is. We train officers how chaplaincy can serve them and help them to be better officers (and yes, better spouses, parents, and friends.)
We want chaplains to know that they are not there to try and be a peace officer but to serve the peace officer. We want officers to know that we respect them and want to be a back-up for them in their lives and vocation.
So, for the chaplains who are reading this, I want to encourage you to continue to befriend and support your officers. Do regular ride-a-longs, check in at the PD and talk to the detectives and civilian support staff. Make yourself available – even at those seemingly inconvenient times. Be real with them – they’ll respect you more if you are up front about your beliefs, even if they don’t agree with them. Get trained – and then get trained some more.
For you peace officers, I want to encourage you (as a retired peace officer) to give your chaplain a chance. Give him a chance to serve you and be a back up for you because he knows that your work is “no afternoon athletic contest that you’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.” (Ephesians 6:12)
Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Training
Finally, this is not mere talk. The action comes in the training – putting on your theological boots - so that your theological rubber will hit the road of the real-life, blood and guts, joys and sorrows of law enforcement. May 21-25, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri, Peace Officer Ministries, Inc. offers world class training at Concordia Seminary. This includes homeland security critical incident command training, understanding law enforcement as a culture, the theology behind law enforcement and the support for it, as well as a chance to meet and network with peace officers, chaplains, pastors, and lay people who desire to ‘serve those who protect and serve us.’ More information can be found at www.peaceofficerministries.org.
Watch your six, and Stay Safe!
About The Author
Rev. Frank C. Ruffatto is a Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) pastor (Point of Grace Lutheran, Cornelius, NC) and retired police detective (Prince George’s County, Md. PD) He is also the Executive Director and Chaplain for Peace Officer Ministries, Inc. (POM) a 501(c)3 non-profit, international law enforcement chaplaincy ministry whose mission is to “Serve Those Who Protect and Serve Us.”
Chaplain Ruffatto has an A.A. in Liberal Arts from St Leo College, a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies (Behavioral Science/Theology) from Concordia College, Bronxville, NY and a M.Div. from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.
Chaplain Ruffatto has performed “boots on the ground” ministry for P.O.M. in Nicaragua, Alabama, and assisted with the LCMS relief efforts in American Samoa. Locally, with Point of Grace, he has worked with the Cornelius Police Department’s Christmas-adopt-a-family projects, National Night Out events, and other ad hoc activities. Additionally, his combination of police/ministry education and experience provides a practical application to the POM police and chaplaincy training at Concordia Seminary.