Friday, July 6, 2012

Ministering to People on the Streets for 22 Years...Have I Learned Anything?

As a volunteer law enforcement chaplain, I have walked a delicate line for over 22 years. I am a Christian minister, and I so I have a solemn duty to act in a way that represents Christianity properly.  But I am also called to serve in an environment that is often dark.  More specifically I am called to serve the officers that share my Christian values, and I am also called to serve those that do not. I am expected to serve the officers who are not favorable about Christianity with the same enthusiasm as the officer who endures my sermons every Sunday. I actually work at that responsibility eagerly.

 They expect me to go with them to all of the places they are asked to go. I go with them to homes that are appraised for in the millions on a tax roll somewhere, and I also go to smelly, ramshackle houses infested with roaches.  And they expect me to communicate well with all of the people they are asked to deal with. I can’t be offended when people curse at me or otherwise demonstrate disrespect. And believe me it happens. I have to endure people that hate the police and preachers alike. 

As a chaplain, I have to assume the people I am called to minister to will harm me, and the officer accompanying me at the time. I occasionally ask questions that normal ministers don’t ask people during a pastoral visit. I have to be wary as I am expressing compassion.  In most cases, I have to assume the worst in terms of motives.  I even have to assume that people are lying to me as I talk to them, because if I don’t I could be jeopardizing my safety and an officer’s safety as well.

I walk a delicate line. I must express genuine Christian compassion on behalf of all kinds of people experiencing severe trauma in their lives. I am called to serve with some pretty salty characters.  I try to do all of this with an attitude of joy.  But I have also learned something of tremendous consequence over the years.

All of my officers expect me to be Christian in every aspect of my conduct. I repeat ALL of my officers regardless of their religious background expect me to be Christian… They would be disappointed in me if my language or demeanor was rude, crude, or offensive. They are not going to respect a chaplain who is coarse, vulgar or uncouth. And I would add that they the people I serve on the streets desperately need someone who is kind, loving, and genuine. I firmly believe they too would be repulsed by someone that is impolite or offensive in language or conduct. I am especially required to be kind to those that are not.

I have been ministering to people on the streets as they experienced all kinds of crises for 22 years. Have I learned anything? I have learned that I walk a delicate line.  And I have figured out I have a lot of growing to do. It is a daily challenge to serve in that environment and maintain the level of integrity that is required for the task. But I need to be reminded that I am not worth much to those I serve if I am not true to my own identity and calling. How about you? Are you true to your own identity?

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