“This will be our third year,” said Johnny Cash, 53, of Pell City, who is a youth pastor at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and was the pastor at Lighthouse Tabernacle Church when he first volunteered with the Pell City Police Department as a chaplain three years ago. “We started at the same time, within weeks of each other.”
Cash was joined by James Dendy, 79, of Cropwell, the former pastor for First Baptist Church in Odenville and who now attends First Baptist Church of Pell City, Fred Shirley, 52, of Pell City, who is a youth minister at Eden Westside Baptist Church, and Paul Lett, who is the minister at Harvest Center.
Cash explained that Pell City Police Department chief Greg Turley spoke at a pastor association meeting and told pastors about the need for chaplains.
“He wanted to help form a spiritual connection between the community, police officers and their families,” Cash said, adding, “They (police) go through a lot of trauma, much greater than the normal family, so our primary focus is on the officers and their families. Our secondary focus as chaplains is on the community.”
Shirley said there is a need for more chaplains, and the four ministers could always use a helping hand.
“We would love to have someone from a different denomination,” he said.
“It’s a big ministry,” he said. “We could use all the people we could get.”
Shirley said volunteer chaplains are required to be licensed ministers.
“I think this is a great thing the chief came up with,” Cash said. “I think it’s a great service this community needs.”
The men say they received special training as chaplains, but it also takes special qualities to do this type of volunteer work.
“You have to be able to care for people,” Lett said.
The four chaplains have witnessed some terrible things, tragedies they must try and help, and comfort officers, victims and families who have suffered a loss.
“Sometimes it only takes open ears and a shut mouth,” Lett said.
The men are called at all hours, day and night, when a tragedy occurs.
“When you get a call, there’s no telling what is on the other end,” Shirley said. “That’s why training is so important.”
Cash said every situation is different.
“We’re led by the Spirit,” he said. “The Lord shows us the way.”
They say the important thing is to let people know they are there to help and to do whatever they can to assist people through difficult times.
All four men seem to have a sense of humor, maybe a quality they need when faced with so much tragedy.
Shirley says he and the other chaplains will sometimes turn to each other to vent about experiences they encounter, but they enjoy what they do.
“I really enjoy every aspect of it,” Shirley said.
Cash said his only dislike as a police chaplain is that there is never enough time to serve.
“You do what you can do,” he said. “Whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord.”
Normally with fatalities, they say, one chaplain stays at the scene, while another chaplain makes notification to the next of kin.
The men said they work by a calendar schedule and are generally contacted by police, sheriff deputies or the 911 dispatcher when needed. The men, who are escorted by police, make death notifications to family members, counsel and even help set up funeral arrangements when necessary.
The chaplains check back with the victims’ families to make sure their needs are being met.
Chaplains must try to help and comfort people who they have never met before, many of whom do not have any connection with a church.
If the victim’s family belongs to a church, the chaplains contact the family’s pastor.
Dendy said one of the main differences between a minister of a church and a chaplain for a police department is that as a minister, you’re dealing with people who have a spiritual connection with the church.
“As a chaplain, you deal with more people who don’t belong to a church,” Dendy said.
Asked why at his age, he is putting himself in some very difficult situations, dealing with people very emotional times?
“It’s a calling,” Dendy said. “It’s one way I stay active in the ministry. I think the ministry is a lifetime calling.”
And as for these four chaplains, they are there when called upon, helping out their fellow men during times of crisis.