By Brittany Tate, The Brunswick News*
Applying God’s words to everyday life has always been a mission of the Rev. Charles Houston, even if that meant delivering the word of God within the confines of the state’s police departments.
With nothing more than a welcoming smile — one hand extended for shaking and the other firmly clasped around author Charles Ferrara’s book, “Beyond the Badge: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Cops and Their Families” — the retired minister has traded in his vestment for a white collared button-down displaying an insignia that reads “State of Georgia Department of Public Safety” and a gold shield emblem pocket badge that is venerated by his title — chaplain.
“I’ve been a chaplain since the early ‘80s and have been ministered to officers at the Georgia State Patrol, GBI (or Georgia Bureau of Investigation), DNR (or Department of Natural Resources) Wildlife Resources Division, the Georgia Department of Homeland Security and the Darien Police Department,” Houston said, adding that chaplains also minister to any other police officers and departments of public who request services.
Retiring as a 40-year pastor from the South Georgia Conference in 2009 and subsequently forming Caring Connection Chaplaincy, Houston said starting the ministerial organization seemed like the perfect melding of his decades-long volunteer service to public safety agencies with his desire to bring the word of God to the people, particularly the men and women in blue.
“When they are hired, they are the best of the best. They are less likely to get a divorce, abuse alcohol or drugs, or commit suicide. But once they are in (their roles), their stats are the same as those who are mentally ill in the general population,” Houston said.
Caring Connection Chaplaincy is an organization dedicated to serving and tending to the needs of the departments of public safety, their families, and the people they encounter and serve in the line of duty.
“Active or retired, a police officer commits suicide once a day,” Houston said. “Those are the hard statistics, so it’s my job to support them, let them know how valued they are and to promote the foundation that they stand on.”
That’s why chaplains, he said, are needed to remind officers and police departments of their worth beyond the badge. Unlike a traditional minister, Houston said police chaplains primarily work in secular areas — police departments, hospitals, military bases, prisons, etc.
With such high populations and strenuous physical and mental demands of the job, sometimes “a spiritual response is needed to be a presence with law enforcement,” he said.
That could be just talking about self-care and the officers’ concerns while on the job, going for a ride-along, sitting with them at meal time or assisting them with road blocks.
“It’s a way to connect with them when I can. And it’s not just for them, but their families as well. So say there is a death in the family or a family member has an illness, I try to be available to them as well,” he said, who is also a member of ICPC, or International Conference of Police Chaplains.
While it may seem as a somewhat in-house pastoral position, Houston is quick to say that being a chaplain does not mean he is trying to replace anyone’s pastor.
“When there’s a situation that we feel they could discuss with their church, we ask, ‘Who can we connect you with? Do you have a pastor or church?’ We kind of step into the background and minister to them that way and their families, too,” he said.
Since he started volunteering in this capacity, Houston said he has passed out more than 300 of Charles Ferrara’s book, “Beyond the Badge” at his Caring Connection Chaplaincy classes. He has even started passing out Clarke Paris’ book, “Daddy, I Worry About You” to those officers with young children at home.
It is to help “take the Lord where they are, especially when they are faced with difficult circumstances at times,” he said.
But the care and support the police departments receive does not fall short on the chaplains themselves. Through ICPC, conferences, training seminars and peer support groups are offered to chaplains to ensure that they are mentally and spiritually in tune to help others.
“During the (recent) Region 8 training seminar for ICPC, chaplains from around the southeast came to train for a week. One of the chaplains attended 12 funerals of the Sandy Hook shooting, and another attended funerals from the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City. We may have to (deal with hard circumstances) for a day, but (the officers) live with this day after day,” he said.
“We’ve learned to peer support so if we know one of ours has handled something difficult, we will check on each other to make sure we’re okay, so that we can be the spiritual presence among the pain and hurt (for the officers), especially when a family is coming to terms with what’s happened to a loved one.”
While he admits that some days can be challenging, Houston said his spiritual journey from the pulpit to the many police departments he has ministered has been an affirming pledge to God’s love and understanding.
“To me, I’m carrying God out into the streets beyond the four walls of the church, where ecclesiastical ministry connects you with people who may not
otherwise associate with the church,” Houston said.
*Reprinted with permission