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What It Will Be Like on the Other Side (part 2)

Back in March I wrote about what we might look like on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Who knew what we would see and experience in 2020? But let me get straight to the point, our first responder agencies will never be the same. And frankly, we as public safety chaplains should not expect our roles to go back to the way they were, either. We need to learn to adapt and overcome in order to keep the message of hope pure for our first responders and the public.

We as a nation have seen a pandemic compounded by major natural disasters, compounded by racial issues, compounded by a nasty election cycle, compounded by restrictions on our normal ways of coping. Every one of these has had a direct impact on our fire, police and EMS departments. It seems the only thing that hasn’t changed is the hope that lives within us, which should never change.

A good portion of the community no longer trusts us in public safety. Many of us chaplains wear a badge, and we are all identified with our public safety agencies, and because of that we carry that stigma too. People don’t take the time to read that fine print on your badge that says “Chaplain.” Even though I work in the fire service rather than law enforcement, I have experienced this personally, and maybe you have, too.

Many of us are also tied to a religious community that has gotten deeply involved into partisan politics. I have said it before: even though as a citizen you have the right to be active in politics, it may not be advantageous for you as a chaplain. I would much rather leave people wondering who I vote for but sure about my love for them because of the Holy Spirit living in me. Yet because of the hyper-partisanship mixed with faith and nationalism where I live, people try to put me into certain slots. It now takes longer to get past that and build trust.

During this time, more and more people are feeling God has let them down. They have lost too much, or they have lost hope because this has gone on too long. This could very easily be one of the reasons why suicidal ideation is up in the nation. But the question, “Why has God let us down?” is a spiritual one. It is one that is uniquely answered by people of faith. And a public safety chaplain on the scene of a trauma may hear it a lot. The presence of a chaplain and the help a chaplain provides are part of the answer, a reminder that God is always there.

Unfortunately, our ability to help people find answers means overcoming the trust issues mentioned above. While there are things we cannot change, let us as chaplains try not to shoot ourselves in the foot by engaging in things that detract from the message of hope and support that we bring.

In Him,

Chaplain Chris M. Wade


South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association

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