What does a police chaplain do?
Essentially, a police chaplain is a minister of religion who provides pastoral support to members of the police family. This support takes a number of expressions: anything from an informal chat through to support at traumatic scenes, and performing formal religious ceremonies.
Describe your interaction with NSW Police Legacy and the role you perform.
My relationship with NSW Police Legacy is similar to my relationship with the NSW Police Force – I am available and on-call to provide pastoral support to its members and their families. NSWPF Chaplaincy provides pastoral support to legatees and staff members when required. We are also on hand to assist staff and families as they remember and farewell their loved ones. You might also see me offering prayers or blessings at formal occasions.
What goes through your mind when you attend the home of a fallen officer?
On the way to their home I offer a prayer and seek the strength and peace I need to bring to the family. I also take a moment to recognise the tragedy and place it just to one side in my mind – so that I’m not overcome by the sadness of the situation.
At the home, my only focus is the family and their immediate needs. I will work alongside other support groups and agencies to ensure that the family have all the help they need to begin to process and face the new future that has been forced upon them.
What sort of questions do the families ask you and what sort of support do they expect from you?
In the initial stage, following a tragedy, most people are in shock and not yet at the point of asking philosophical or spiritual questions. The support I provide in those first early moments will generally be something logistical – making sure there is food and drink available etc.
As the days go on there will be questions about funerals and farewells. Often parents will ask me to speak with their children and answer their questions about death and grief.
In the following months when the overwhelming tide of initial emotion and support recedes, the family will have space to start processing their grief, and it’s generally at that point that I’ll begin to have the philosophical and spiritual conversations. The questions are often around the “Why?” and “What now?”
What if the family members are not particularly religious?
My Christian faith is what drives me to care for others – not what I seek to impose on them. The other person’s beliefs (or lack of them) are no barrier. Police Chaplains are there to support anyone in any way that will help ease their burden.
Your main role is supporting police, but through NSW Police Legacy, that care extends to the families as well. How does the care you provide vary across the many types of people you service?
Police Chaplains are available to support past and present members of the police family and their immediate families. The care is only ever in response to the need.
Are you in touch with the families after the initial contact with them?
Yes. The relationship will often continue for months – sometimes years – but only as long and often as needed. True pastoral care is about helping people to eventually become resilient and non-reliant on your ongoing care.
How did you become a Police Chaplain?
I used to work in construction and engineering before I felt drawn to Christian ministry. I trained as an Anglican minister and began my full-time work in this field as a parish minister on the Central Coast (where I still live). The Local Area Command (Tuggerah Lakes) was in need of a volunteer police chaplain, so I offered to serve them in that capacity. I so enjoyed the work that when a Senior Chaplaincy position was advertised I went for it. I’m very convincing in an interview, and the rest is history!
How do you cope with the tragedy you see?
In the initial instance I slightly detach myself emotionally from the scene or conversation by reminding myself of my role, and that the tragedy (whilst terrible) is not “my” tragedy and I’m no good to anyone if I’m a mess.
Following on from that I perform regular (what I call) “emotional hygiene”. I take time out to do things that are restorative and life-giving: feed myself spiritually at church, spend time out in the Aussie bush, enjoy laughs over a good meal with friends and family, and watch something entertaining. I also see a clinical supervisor (counsellor) every four weeks for a debrief. My Chaplaincy colleagues, friends, and family act as good barometer and tell me when not I’m operating at my best. I’ve learned to listen to those voices.