Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 2, 2009
Police chaplains' main role – be present
Chaplains address the spiritual part of the policeman's life, no matter what their faith – or lack of it
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
When Father Basil Chomos is not serving his congregation at St. Gerard Parish in Yorkton, Sask., he is serving those who protect and serve.
As a police chaplain, Chomos' main role is to provide confidential moral, ethical and religious support to police RCMP officers and their families.
On any given day a police chaplain could be called upon to assist at a suicide incident, deliver a death notification to a fallen police officer's family, participate in a hostage negotiation, deliver spiritual counselling to alleviate the psychological impacts inherent in police work or lead ecumenical prayers at ceremonial functions.
"I see myself primarily in a supporting role, to support the members and their families," said Chomos. "I would like to think I'm a sounding board of sorts to members facing stressful situations. I think the first thing is presence - being a presence to the members."
ADDICTIONS, MARITAL PROBLEMS
Chomos also helps RCMP members deal with gambling and alcohol addictions and marital problems.
"We help out with traumatic situations and when (police) members are hurting," says Gerry McMillan, president of the Canadian Chaplains' Association.
"There are a lot of other people who can offer similar help, but we as chaplains kind of bring an idea that there is something greater, that there is a God, that there is a good shepherd. We bring the transcendent."
But chaplains also care for the atheist and the non-believer.
"If we have an atheist, somebody who doesn't believe in God, we are going to be there for him as well," McMillan said. "I am not going to judge him on that. I am going to try to connect him to his support group, his family. We are there for everybody."
Chomos and McMillan were in Edmonton to attend the Canadian Chaplains annual conference at RCMP K-Division headquarters Oct. 22. Some 50 police chaplains from across the country took part.
Delegates attended a series of workshops designed to help them better meet the needs of the police agencies they serve. Workshops offered at the conference included counselling and emergency response teams, mental health first aid, critical incident stress management and grief following trauma.
"I think we (chaplains) are essential because we bring the spiritual part," said McMillan, an RCMP chaplain since 1994 and an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) chaplain since 2000. There are 180 police chaplains across Canada.
"I've always had a concern for police officers so I sought it out," McMillan said of his voluntary position as chaplain.
A few police officers become chaplains after retirement and they have little difficulty in gaining the members' trust. People like Chomos and McMillan, a former Pentecostal pastor, have to earn the trust of the people they serve.
"We are trained in critical incidents stress management, which means we are called upon to help officers in difficult situations," McMillan says. "Myself personally I was involved in the Swiss Air crash in 1998."
More than 220 people died when Swissair Flight 111 crashed off the Nova Scotia coast in 1998. The RCMP investigated the incident for several weeks.
"They had their own chaplains there but it became so overwhelming that some of the care workers there were becoming fatigued, so they called for people from outside the province."
In the Swissair incident, the role of the chaplains was to be on hand.
"We would walk among the members just to make sure that they were okay," McMillan recalled. "If they wanted to talk to a chaplain we were there to provide that. We were there just to provide support. I remember going to Tim Horton's to pick up some coffee to bring to the members at lunchtime."
Chaplains also provided support to families of the crash victims.
"We didn't push ourselves on them; a lot of days we would just walk around identified as chaplains and we would say, 'Hey, just want you to know we are thinking about you.'"
There has been a chaplaincy program in the RCMP since the force's beginning but the Swissair Accident elevated its importance. "I think it really emphasized the need for it more so," McMillan said.
But chaplains are not there just for the bad times, he said.
DROP BY AND CHAT
"In Ontario I regularly visit the detachments just encouraging the members, just to say, 'Hey, we are thinking about you.' I like to laugh and joke with them. I go to social activities where they are, where I get to know them, because I care about them."
Chaplains also preside at various services and are called upon to lead prayers at special functions, graduations and the opening of new detachments.
"In the OPP I do blessings for the graduation class when they graduate new police officers which is a real joy."
When an officer dies, his church is generally contacted.
"Most Catholics will go to their church or their parish priest, but sometimes they call us as chaplains," McMillan explained.
"If the officer is a Roman Catholic, my job is to show him care but also to contact his faith group. However, if it is a line of duty death, the RCMP will work along with the church to put on a special service."
Chaplains are on call all the time, but the OPP has four chaplains so if McMillan cannot respond to a call, someone else will.
"I love (my work)," McMillan says. "I'm always reminding the officers that they are valuable and needed."
DECADES OF SERVICE
Chomos has been an RCMP chaplain since 2002 but also has 20 years of experience as a chaplain in the army reserve forces.
"As a chaplain I'm there to listen to them," he says. "If they come to see me with a marital problem, I'd listen to them and then say 'I know a good marriage counsellor.'"
In 20 years as a military chaplain and seven with the RCMP, Chomos has never used his position to try to convert anyone.
"In the military I was the only chaplain many times and so it didn't matter what denomination they were. I'm not going there as Catholic priest to say 'Why aren't you in Church on Sunday?' No, I'm there to listen."
The other night, during his stay in Edmonton, Chomos got the opportunity to ride in a police car with a young officer.
"We arrested a young lad for robbery, took him back to the station and then I watched this guy fill in three hours of paperwork. So it is not all glamorous as Hollywood movies would like us to believe," he said.
"I commended him on his professionalism. He was very professional. He was compassionate. Certainly he was in control of the situation."
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