I live in a small town, brought here by the Navy in 1994. I’ve been active in church and the faith community from the day we moved here. For the first time in nearly four years, two worlds I live in collided in a manner that I had not anticipated. Maybe you don’t know this, but I serve as a full time pastor and as well as a part-time police officer in my community. It’s not unusual for pastors to have a part-time job. Even when I was active duty in the Navy, I had a part-time job. I’ve had a side business since 1998 that specializes in handyman services and remodeling. I’ve worked in and on lots of houses here. I’ve re-sided and re-roofed houses, hung blinds in houses, fixed plumbing and electrical issues, installed cabinets, and can for the most part remember houses I’ve worked on as I drive through neighborhoods. I know pastors that work in offices, retail, restaurants, and a variety of non-ministry vocations to help pay the bills.
My love of law enforcement goes way back to childhood. Adam-12, Cannon, Dragnet, Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco, and Starsky and Hutch were regular programs I loved to watch. One of our neighbors growing up was Jack Whetstone, a Des Plaines police officer and very dear friend. He was patient, kind, and thrilled to talk with us kids as we swarmed him when he got home in his police car. When he became a motorcycle cop, well, we were over the moon. And that was before CHiPs. In 2012 I had an opportunity to go to the police academy. I spoke with our church elders and received permission from the church to go and graduated a few months later. At 49 years old, I was the second oldest in the two classes in the academy at the time. I’ve been serving with our local police department ever since. People have asked, how can you be a pastor and a cop? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? I guess it’s no more a conflict of interest than serving on a nuclear submarine capable of delivering more destruction with one missile than mankind has ever seen, or my ministry buddies that work at restaurants, or Best Buy, or Home Depot. Doesn’t everyone need to see a real life, in the flesh, authentic, passionate follower of Christ? Doesn’t everyone deserve to hear the life changing power of the Gospel? I mean, there are sinners everywhere. Many pastors I know love working in the community because it affords them the opportunity to get out of the office, to mix and mingle, to grip and grin with people that might not visit their church. I can say I love working as a police officer. I can use the problem solving skills God gave me to help people in a real way. Some days it’s way easier than being in ministry.
In the church, I counsel lots of people I would consider to be “in crisis” that simply ignore good, biblical guidance and continue to do what ever they want to do. It can be very discouraging. If I see someone acting in a way that would bring reproach on them, their family, or more importantly, the Lord, I talk to them, challenge them, beseech them, pray for them and try all the other biblical things we’re supposed to do to help them be like Jesus, but they still have the choice to ignore the loving guidance and the biblical warnings. I hope people to that for me, too.
It’s different in the police world. I see someone breaking a traffic law, I can stop them and issue a citation. They’ll have to answer for that which they have been accused of. If they break the law, I can arrest them and take them to jail where once again, they will have to answer for their charges. If found guilty, there will be a monetary penalty and could spend some time in jail. I have the opportunity to start the wheels of justice in motion. That can be quite refreshing coming from a world where justice may not be served in the here and now. I have the discretion to exercise grace and mercy. I am a child of the King before all other things. No matter the situation I’m in, that reality is extraordinarily close to my heart and governs what I do.
Here comes the collision. As part of my personal community outreach, I volunteer as a Chaplain at our hospital. The Chaplain program at our hospital is more like a crisis ministry. I serve one week every couple of months as the on-call Chaplain. If an issue arises where a patient needs some spiritual help or guidance, the Chaplain on the roster gets the call to respond. I’ve been called a number of times and it’s rarely good. Most of the calls are generated from the emergency room and come after some sort of tragedy or life altering event.
This call was different. I got called to a patient’s room that wanted me to pray for her so I went. I knocked on the door and went into the hospital room and to my surprise, there were a number of people there keeping the patient company. When I’m called, it’s not normally like this. Often the Chaplain is called because there is little or no family support. As I knelt down next to the bed, I surveyed the people in the room and made eye contact with someone I knew. I’ve met people through church, through local events, through my time in the Navy, through my counseling ministry, through my business, as well as through police work. When they’re familiar to me, but I just can’t place them, I’ll normally ask, “Did we serve in the Navy together?” Or, “Have you visited our church?” I’m aware that I know the person, but sometimes I just can’t remember how I know the person. This person was different. I knew immediately. Without a doubt. Two days earlier, I secured an arrest warrant for this person. If you ever served in the Navy, there are words you never want to hear: COLLISION IMMINENT! Two worlds were getting ready to collide. Ministry world and police world on a collision course that just might turn out pretty ugly if I failed to exercise godly wisdom.
Thoughts began to race through my head about how best to fulfill my responsibility to God, the hospital and uphold my oath as a police officer. Here I was in a hospital room with a patient needing me as a servant of God while there was also a wanted fugitive in the room needing to be captured and held accountable for the crimes to which they are accused.
Is there a dilemma?
Not really. It was a pretty easy decision. I dove across the patient’s bed and tackled the fugitive. Ok, I didn’t do that and at my age, I likely would have ended up in the room next door.
When I looked at the individual, I said, “I know you, your name is ________.” The individual said, “No it’s not.” A woman in the room I later learned was the fugitive’s grandmother said, “Don’t lie to the preacher!” At this point, my fugitive got up and quickly left the room. I didn’t. I stayed with the patient that needed me.
Could I have done anything different? How many situations have you been in where you could have done something different to improve the outcome? Even in situations I’ve dealt with in ministry and law enforcement that ended well could have been handled better. There’s always room for improvement. I’m continuously critiquing myself to grow more like Christ. He’s continually convicting and transforming my heart to become like His. It’s a process that I am engaged in daily.
Are you wondering about the fugitive? I am too.