The idea — calling on area pastors to assist victims in times of crisis — occurred to Sheriff Adam King before he even took office.
Chaplain David Murdoch oversees the spiritual care of deputies and administrative staff at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and Chaplain Russ Hooper oversees the same for inmates in the Johnson County Jail. But more was needed, King said.
“It was one of my early goals before I was elected sheriff and one I’m so grateful to so many of our pastors in the county for jumping on board,” King said. “Here’s the thing. As law enforcement officers we frequently deal with terrible and sad situations. It might be a deputy having to go to a family’s home to deliver a death notification. The deputy cares and wants to help but too often he’s also dealing with calls backing up, calls for assistance from other deputies out in the field and he has to get to those. Unfortunately, that also too often leaves a family that’s just been given terrible news overwhelmed, full of grief and not sure where to turn and that’s horrible.
“And it’s not necessarily just death notifications. It’s also crime victims and anyone undergoing a traumatic crisis situation.”
In effort to mitigate such situations to at least some degree King formed the Volunteer Chaplain Corps consisting of local pastors who have agreed to be on call around the clock.
Eight pastors from various denominations gathered Monday at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office for an orientation and training session.
“Due to our large call volume, law enforcement misses many opportunities to address the needs of our citizens,” King said. “Our deputies are under pressure to resolve a call for service quickly and move on to the next.
“Basically, the deputies often just don’t have the time needed to guide a citizen through difficult times. This is where our field chaplains come in. They can take the time to put some light in some dark places.”
Chaplain John Knox, who has logged 29 years of service with the Hood County Sheriff’s Office and the Granbury Police Department, spent Monday going over topics such as law enforcement culture, stress in law enforcement, serving a law enforcement family, delivering death notifications, responding to suicides, crime scene protocol for chaplains and chaplaincy from an ecumenical perspective.
“That along with the experience and training the pastors participating already have should work as a benefit to our citizens in need,” King said. “People in these type situations need comfort, need someone to help get them through the hardest part. The pastors we have signed on so far come from established churches most of which have ministries already set up to deal with issues like these.”
The program should benefit the participating pastors as well as the victims and law enforcement officers, King said.
“Pastors have that desire to help people in the community and reach those people and places they wouldn’t otherwise have access to and try to make a positive difference,” King said. “As law enforcement officers we deal with those situations on a regular basis.”
First Baptist Church of Cleburne Pastor Danny Crosby said that though he’s worked with many facing times of crisis he’s never done so directly in a law enforcement setting.
“But I felt called to do so when I learned about this program,” Crosby said. “I see this as a very good thing and important need for us to be there for people in times of hurt and trauma and try to bring light into those dark places and times. I think this program is going to open new doors of opportunity for myself and other pastors to help and serve one of those being an opportunity to help people in need on a larger basis to help deal with root causes as opposed to the symptoms deputies deal with.”
First United Methodist Church Cleburne Pastor Daniel Hawkins said he walked away from Monday’s training session deeply encouraged.
“Because I saw this group of pastors from across the county coming together and it was obvious how deeply committed each of them are to reach out and help our people in need,” Hawkins said. “Especially in those terrible times of life when people need special care. In that regard I have to say that Pastor Knox was a great help and laid a good groundwork for us to get started.
“Jesus calls us to meet people where they are to meet their emotional and physical needs and I think this opens the door for churches throughout Johnson County to step up and help.”
First United Methodist Church of Alvarado Pastor Kim Long called the chaplain program necessary and opportunity rich.
“When Rev. Hawkins reached out to see if I’d be interested in participating we had a conversation about how this may help us meet, minister to and help people who we might not otherwise encounter and how this can be an opportunity for us and all the pastors to serve the community in a different way both people in need and our officers who already do so much for Johnson County,” Long said. “This isn’t about whether you’re a member of our particular church. If we come in contact with you and you later decide to join a church because of that, that’s wonderful.
“But this program is more about meeting and helping in their immediate needs and helping to spread love and hope, which can only come from God. For us it’s absolutely a chance to serve beyond the walls of our churches. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to step into those really hard places in peoples’ lives to try to help them through those critical moments and after that through those now what moments through trying to bring some love, hope and peace in their lives.”
As part of their continuing training the pastors will soon spend time in dispatch and go on ride-alongs with deputies in order to learn more about the workings of the sheriff’s office.
“The training session we had Monday was exciting, fun and thorough,” Long said. “It really built on the knowledge of a lot of the things we already do as pastors. There’s also the positive of uniting the churches, which I think may encourage us to get out of our own little worlds and work on different projects together.
The program may grow, King said, and the field chaplains are encouraged to reach out to fellow pastors. The program is also not just for JCSO.
“No, this is for any law enforcement agency in Johnson County to call on,” King said. “Some of the larger departments have their own chaplains and they’ll probably turn to them first. But we’ll be here if they need us. And we’re here for the smaller departments that may not have the time or resources to set up a program like this.
“It’s not just for victims in relation to law enforcement situations either. These pastors are available to be called upon by our firefighters, our investigators and our prosecutors. I was thinking about that the other day how in a trial situation the victim’s family and even the offender’s family can just be devastated by the horrible things that you hear and that go on in there. So that’s the goal, to have this as a resource and help for victims in all those situations.”