Sheriff’s chaplains serve spiritual needs of law enforcement officers
By Kara Witherow, Editor
When he’s not preaching from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, one can often find Rev. Mike Davis at the ballfield, on the firing range, practicing jiu-jitsu, or in a patrol car.
As a sheriff’s chaplain and reserve deputy sheriff in Lowndes County, Rev. Davis makes time in his week to check in with deputies, stop in the muster room regularly, and support his brothers and sisters in blue. He’s given blessings and benedictions, assisted at death notifications and conducted funerals, and has even hauled mulch and garden plants for an officer.
His role as a chaplain is to serve, not preach. It’s a ministry of presence, and his parish is the community as he ministers to deputies, their families, and the sheriff’s office staff.
“Police officers … carry great burdens,” said Rev. Davis, a second-career pastor who served as the chief deputy sheriff of Sumter County until 1988. “A majority of police officers don’t have a church family or anyone to lean on. They see so much, they hear so much … so many of these guys are looking for something to hang onto; it’s tough to find it in the world.”
That’s where chaplains come in, he said: to help give hope when it seems there is none.
“The moments where we can help people catch a glimpse of Christ are why I do it.”
Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk says that having a chaplain makes a tremendously positive impact on his 240 employees.
“Any time we have anything that is the least bit of a disturbance or a tragedy or something that disrupts a family or an officer, he’s right there,” Sheriff Paulk said of Rev. Davis. “They know that if something serious or tragic comes along he’ll be right there, in the middle of it with them. They can lean on him. It’s great to know that not only is he a good friend and deputy, but that he has a great sense of calm through the Word of the Lord.”
In his tenth year as a volunteer chaplain, Rev. Daryl Brown, pastor of Shiloh and Vienna United Methodist Churches, is also serving as senior chaplain for the Georgia Sheriff’s Association’s (GSA) Chaplain’s Division. There are five active GSA chaplains among South Georgia United Methodist pastors: Rev. Brown, Rev. Davis, Rev. John Haney, Rev. Chip Strickland, and Rev. Stephen Webb. Dr. Rick Lanford, superintendent of the North Central District, helped start the program more than 20 years ago, Rev. Brown said.
Different than a jail or prison ministry, being a sheriff’s chaplain means serving those who are in law enforcement and their families. Those chaplains who are active and serving as GSA chaplains serve a local sheriff and his or her office, actively attend yearly training through and for the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association Chaplains Division, and pay dues to connect to the GSA.
“Our goal is simply to be spiritual guides and to be somebody there for them,” Rev. Brown said. “We just have a passion for helping our law enforcement deal with the everyday stresses of the job. There are several others who serve as law enforcement chaplains with other agencies including Homeland Security, Georgia State Patrol, DNR, and local police departments. We are grateful for their service to those involved in those agencies.”
Trained by the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, each chaplain goes through Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) training that helps them learn techniques and protocols to help deputies deal with issues they may face.
“Law enforcement is a stressful job, and we’re there to help,” Rev. Brown said. “We’re not necessarily counselors, but we help debrief and let them have somebody to talk to so they don’t take that stress home with them.”
There are hundreds of chaplains throughout the state of Georgia, of all faith backgrounds, and several South Georgia United Methodist pastors join Rev. Davis and Rev. Brown in serving as chaplains.
Rev. Brown is thankful that so many sheriffs see the value in chaplains and in helping their deputies.
“There are a lot of our sheriffs in the state of Georgia who have a faith in God and Jesus Christ, so they see the need for spiritual care,” he said. “Most of the sheriffs see the need for care for their deputies. I love the way that our sheriffs are proactive in helping their people.”
Rev. Davis is thankful that he is able to represent the Kingdom of God to his “other family,” and Sheriff Paulk is grateful for the chaplaincy ministry Rev. Davis provides.
“We are really fortunate to have him and I hope that we’ll have him for many, many more years,” Sheriff Paulk said. “He’s a very valuable asset to us.”