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Why SC Public Safety Chaplains Association?

What’s it all about? Why should I join? What’s in it for me? These are legitimate questions that are asked by potential members of any new organization. These are questions I want to address in this in this, my first blog as your president.

A bit of history is a good place to begin. Our predecessor organization, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Chaplains Association (SCLECA) was a thriving organization for the better part of two decades with a large membership. It met periodically to provide training and fellowship to law enforcement chaplains throughout our state. But, like many volunteer organizations, it eventually lost its vigor, interest waned, and effective leadership disappeared. SCLECA was dissolved and its financial assets were dispersed. Thus, there was no statewide organization for any public safety chaplaincy for a significant period of time.

Another factor in SCPSCA’s founding arose just last year when Chaplain Rob Dewey, then the director of the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy (CCC) in North Charleston, requested help from the International Conference of Police Chaplains (ICPC) to backfill his chaplains who had just spent extended hours in ministry during Hurricane Matthew last fall and had been unable to address their own families’ recovery from the storm. ICPC responded by sending three members of their Disaster Response Team (DRT) to North Charleston to do ride-alongs and counseling for officers of several public safety lowcountry agencies. Though they were not ICPC DRT members (there were no SC ICPC chaplains on the DRT at that time), three South Carolina public safety chaplains also responded.

After the better part of a week, the DRT members met at Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse for supper and an assessment of the week led by Fuzzy Lake, Surfside Beach Fire Department Chaplain. After the assessment a discussion took place about getting more SC chaplains involved in disaster response, not just in ICPC but in general. There was a sense that SC chaplains would be quicker to respond (it took several days to get ICPC DRT chaplains to North Charleston) and South Carolinians would be taking care of our own. There was never any doubt that such a plan would include all public safety chaplains (law enforcement, fire, rescue/EMS, dispatch, and detention center) from the very start.

As if to reinforce the benefits of mobilizing SC public safety chaplains, a situation arose on the heels of the Hurricane Matthew deployment. Another request was made to ICPC for another team to supplement CCC chaplains two weeks later. Two nationally notable trials were to start in early November. Charleston leaders believed that the notoriety of the Daniel Slager and Dylan Roof trials may bring a sizeable number of outside protesters to the Charleston area. All Charleston metro area public safety officer leaves were cancelled, thus exacerbating the officer and chaplain stress already there from the hurricane recovery. ICPC regretfully declined to respond as the circumstances were not disaster-related and within the scope of the DRT’s mission. Two SC public safety chaplains responded to the request for help.

The desire and need for a statewide organization for SC public safety chaplains was established. The question remained: what would that organization look like and what would it do? To answer that question, a planning committee comprised of ten chaplains, both active and retired, representing a variety of SC public safety agencies, and non-chaplains supporting public safety chaplaincy met twice, with numerous emails in between, to discuss the nature of the organization, establish a vision and mission statement, and draft a constitution and bylaws. What emerged on May 6 of this year was the South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association (SCPSCA)!

Now, to answer the three questions mentioned at the top of this blog:

What’s it all About?

There are several state organizations for public safety officers. The SC Law Enforcement Officers Association (SCLEOA), SC Sheriff’s Association, and SC Troopers Association represent SC law enforcement officers. The SC State Firefighters Association represents firefighters, and the SC EMS Association represents EMS/Rescue personal. There is no state organization to represent detention center officers. ICPC and the Federation of Fire Chaplains (FFC) represent those two branches of public safety chaplaincy. Though there are state (ICPC) and regional representatives, (ICPC and FFC) these two entities do not have state organizations.

SCPSCA is THE state organization that represents ALL public safety chaplains, whether they are an agency’s sole chaplain or one of a multi-chaplain agency. SCPSCA is not a religious organization though its members are religious professionals or spiritual leaders. SCPSCA is a public safety professional association, like our public safety officer sister organizations. This designation gives us several advantages. It enables us to broaden and be more inclusive in our mission: training, membership recruitment, publicity, chaplain support in times of crisis and need, etc. Being state and federally incorporated as such, it opens a wider opportunity for grants and donations. Lastly, as a professional organization, it enables us to join with other public safety advocacy groups in supporting issues of common interest.

Why Should I Join?

The reason is up to you. Do you want to increase your chaplain skillset to be a more effective asset to your agency? SCPSCA is for you! Do you want to find like-minded men and women who are committed to ministering to officers in a caring, compassionate manner? SCPSCA is the place to find them! Do you want to discover new ideas in public safety chaplaincy and learn from the experiences of longer-serving chaplains? SCPSCA is the place to be! And, do you wish you could find someone to talk to, to ventilate to, to pray for you and provide moral support, and who understands you and the challenges you face in your ministry? You’ll find them in SCPSCA!

What’s in It for Me?

In other words, what will I get from being a SCPSCA member? As the saying goes, “you will get out of it whatever you chose to put into it.” By being a SCPSCA member you’ll show that you’re serious about being a public safety chaplain to your colleagues and to your agency. SCPSCA will offer regularly-scheduled training seminars. SCPSCA will offer specialized training at a fraction of the cost that some of the national agencies offer because some of our members are nationally certified to teach crisis management, law enforcement chaplaincy, and fire chaplaincy. We are also now a part of a national and international network with subject matter experts to educate and train our members. Already, the Tennessee Federation of Fire Chaplains has offered to provide mutual aid to SCPSCA should the need arise.

Public safety chaplaincy is not for everyone. Having volunteer local pastors/clergy as public safety chaplains is the norm, not exception, within our state and nationally. It doesn’t take long to realize that chaplaincy is more than wearing a badge and uniform. Having the position is not for just building one’s resume, nor is it for “wanna be” public safety officers. Serving as a public safety chaplain is challenging work and your officers will know if you’re serious about what you do in ministry and if you care about them. They will take you seriously if you do. SCPSCA strives to establish a professional standard for public safety chaplaincy within our state.

Let me close by saying that we public safety chaplains are predominantly volunteers. As such, we can slide into a mindset that we don’t have to do a lot of things because were not paid. The reality is that we are non-paid staff for our agencies. Just as our public safety officers are held to a professional standard, we too are held to such a high standard because we minister to professionals. If you don’t believe that, wait until the officer who prepares your agency for national accreditation asks you for a report on your ministry to the agency. Why, you ask? Just about every national public safety accrediting organization views the chaplaincy program as a vital part of the agency. It says about that agency’s care for its officers.

I consider it an honor and privilege to serve as your president. Until the next time…

Blessings & thanks for your service!

Chaplain Dave DeDonato, President - SCPSCA

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Phone: 803-900-5817

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