By Rev. Dr. Barbara W. Dail
Serving as a chaplain is different from serving as a pastor because, even though I have my own faith tradition, I am serving people of all faith traditions. This is particularly true serving as a chaplain in law enforcement, where we must recognize and uphold the separation of church and state. While I am sometimes called on to offer formal prayers at ceremonies or in meeting with an officer, often my prayers take the form of simple presence—of being with.
Silent words offered as I walk a crime scene
Spending time with an officer who is struggling after a challenging incident, providing space for reflection and care
Showing up when I am called on, wearing my “Chaplain” badge, a visible reminder to all: God’s presence is here. You are not alone.
I remember a particular day when I joined an officer for a ride-along. He was not someone I knew well. When he was told of the assignment, he said to me, “You know, I don’t particularly like ride-alongs, and I don’t particularly like chaplains.” Maybe he thought I would preach at him, or try to convert him. But that is not my role. I am called to be present, to listen to provide emotional and spiritual care. And so, we rode together, quiet at first, but slowly he began to speak. We talked about his life, his decision to join the police force, his passions, his hopes. I never brought up religion, yet it was a deeply spiritual conversation. At the end of the night, he looked at me and said “Chaplain, you’re welcome to ride with me anytime you want.”
This, too, is prayer.
Several years ago, I received a call from dispatch to respond to a quadruple homicide. I couldn’t comprehend these words. Quadruple? Homicide? When I arrived at the scene, there was yellow crime scene tape everywhere. I began to walk around, being present among the officers as they worked. As a chaplain, I am one of them, but I am also set apart— a confidential, safe place for them. We have developed trust through the years, so they know they can say anything to me, that they can share their darkest thoughts, or deepest fears. And so, as they attended to the horrific crime scene, I attended to them. I spoke with them to help them process their pain, their anger, their grief.
This, too, is prayer.
Sometimes, I talk with the families of victims, or those being arrested. Sometimes I interact with other personnel, EMS or fire fighters, ER staff at the hospital, or a rookie officer responding to his or her first calls. Some conversations seem mundane. Other conversations are full of meaning and revelation. But each one is surrounded in prayer. My presence is a reminder to them that God is with them, in whatever trauma or challenge they face. And often, as they leave, or anytime I see them in their vehicles afterward, I offer a brief prayer in my heart: “Look after them today, Lord.” A silent benediction.
And this, too, is prayer.
Pray, Practice, Ponder: Spiritual Care Week
This week, we observe Spiritual Care Week, a worldwide celebration of pastoral and spiritual caregivers who serve in hospitals, hospice centers, among law enforcement, and in the military. Offer a special word of prayer for the chaplains among us today, and then take a moment to ponder and pray with Rev. Dr. Dail’s prayer below, written especially for our Law Enforcement Officers.
You are the presence of order, safety,
and well-being in the places you go.
May you be upheld and comforted
by the assurance of God’s
constant presence at your side.
May God bring peace, protection, wisdom
and leadership to you and also those that respond with you.
Rev. Dr. Barbara W. Dail serves as Chaplain at Greenville NC Police, NC Highway Patrol, ICE and U.S. Secret Service in Greenville, N.C.
This column appears in the 2022-2023 edition of Prayers of the People, the annual prayer guide of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, edited by Rev. Meg Lacy Vega. Download the digital version or order free print copies of Prayers of the People at www.cbf.net/pray.