By Rev. Wylie W. Johnson, Pastor and Law Enforcement Chaplain
In Delaware County Pennsylvania, there are 43 distinct Police Departments, many of which are quite small. Even the larger departments are small by city standards. Each department is stove-piped in policies, promotions, retirements, etc. Competition and isolation are the inevitable results of this structure. Cops are also a very close-knit, clannish group. It’s hard to break in and to find acceptance. When an officer retires, regardless of rank, the isolation can become almost unbearable.
The Law Enforcement Chaplains of Delaware County (LECDC) work cooperatively and collegially to meet the spiritual needs of officers. Until this past year, I’ve been the LECDC Vice-president. We are especially cognizant of the issue of police suicides, among both active and retired officers. Sadly, in the past few years we have seen several officer suicides. In 2012, I had the privilege of instructing (16 hours) our chaplains in the Applied Suicide Interventions Skills Training (ASIST). I’ve also made suicide intervention presentation to officers from across the county.
Recently I’ve had the privilege to minister to John, a medically retired Philadelphia city cop who just lost his wife. John was despondent, and sought counseling from a licensed counselor in a neighboring township. The counselor asked if I could help. Although John had only served six years before his injury, and that had been more than 25 years in the past, he still self-identified as a cop. It is a truth that cops always wear the shield in their hearts, even if they’ve been off the force for years. When I called John, he seemed interested, and I made arrangements for him to come to the monthly POOP (Police Officers On Pension – P.O.O.P.). luncheon. We prayed over the phone, and agreed to connect with each other.
These luncheons are usually attended by 30 – 50 retired officers, sheriffs and chiefs. For most of the men and women attending, it is a high point of their month. We chaplains bring a strong spiritual emphasis to these meetings with care for the sick, and bereavement arrangements. We also offer a hearty blessing on the lunch we’ve come to share. I share POOP duties with another CBAA pastor, Perry Messick; and Bob Kilmer, a local evangelical pastor. John was immediately welcomed and made some new friends. Here was a group where John could feel accepted. Retirees find commonality in their years of service, and their personal need to connect with others. Part of communicating the Gospel is the simple caring for each other, and John found this among retired officers who were fast becoming new friends in his old age. Our ministry of presence yields fruit because we are often the only pastors these officers know.
Rev. Wylie W. Johnson (pictured left, with Rev. Buccialia) was ordained by the CBAA of NJ in 1982. He has been the Law Enforcement Chaplain in Springfield Township PA since 2010. Additionally, he is the Chaplain for the Delaware County Chiefs of Police (since April 2013); and co-chaplains the local LE retiree group (Police Officers On Pension – P.O.O.P.). Previously, he served nearly 26 years as a CBAA chaplain in the US Army; and for the past 20 years has been the Pastor of the Springfield Baptist Church, Springfield PA.
Across our Nation, pastors and churches are reaching out to Law Enforcement and Firefighters. These brave men and women appreciate the respect and support of God’s people in their dangerous, daily duties. Many CB pastors are volunteering as LE/First Responder chaplains in their communities. Chaplain Johnson is open to contact [firstname.lastname@example.org] from other pastors interested in learning more about LE/Firefighter (and retired) ministry.
For other stories and reports of CBAmerica chaplains, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy. Those interested in learning about endorsement may contact Andy Meverden, Director of Chaplaincy at email@example.com.