I have told my friends for nearly 30 years that being a police chaplain is very much an “out of the box” ministry. It’s ministry in the field and not in a church building! And it’s a ministry to all kinds of people of all ages coming from all walks of life. And…I love it!!
In recent years, my law-enforcement chaplaincy efforts have expanded to those serving in Emergency Medical Services. I have been welcomed with open arms by these highly-qualified servants. Since most of my time has been devoted to police personnel, I have had to learn an entirely new language in the EMS field. Here is a sampling:
· EMS personnel resent being called “ambulance drivers.” (And I don’t blame them!)
· An ambulance is a “box.” (I don’t tell them that I remember when an ambulance was built on a Cadillac chassis.)
· Tones “drop” when a call for service comes through from dispatch.
· There are EMT’s and Medics. (I have come to appreciate just how challenging it is to earn such designations.)
· The “Sup” does not come out of a Campbell’s can. The “Sup” supervisors the shift.
In past years, I had little interchange with these exceptional professionals, because I was normally called to a scene by the police after they had already departed. In most of those instances, they left with an empty box. The person was deceased at home, or a person died at the scene of a traumatic event. They were leaving as I was arriving.
Therefore, I suppose you could call my ministry an “out of the box service” in a different sort of way. I am serving people in the immediate moments after a medic has told them nothing else can be done for their loved one. I am taking care of the same people that the medics and EMT’s were running code to get to only moments earlier. As I listen to their concerns and hold their hand, the crew serving on the box clears that scene and heads back to the station feeling dejected. They are going through their mind everything they did and wondering if they could have done something different.
When I finish with the family, my routine is somewhat different now. If time permits, I run by the EMS station to touch base with my friends who are anything but ambulance drivers. We sit around the table and enjoy a cup of coffee. I share with them what I can regarding the family we both just finished serving. And after a particularly difficult call, I am sometimes invited to sit in the back of the “box” with one of my EMT’s or medics. It’s a reasonably private place to have a confidential conversation. This happened several times before I realized that I was being invited into sacred and private territory.
I am thankful to say that my ministry is not exclusively “out of the box.” As opportunities grow to serve EMT’s and medics, I will be doing more and more “in the box.” I don’t take that lightly at all. It’s a privilege. I will now be telling my friends that I do ministry “in the box.” But, they may not get it. I have a few friends that still refer to my colleagues as ambulance drivers. At least I know how to correct them now!