Pastors have many tasks and duties within their ministry. They preach the Word and administer the sacraments; they teach the Word in Bible class and confirmation; they perform pre-marital counseling and weddings, private confession and absolution, shut-in visits, school chapel services, and funerals; and they reach out to others with the Gospel as they have opportunity in their daily lives.
How They Got Started
One duty not common to all pastors, but which several of our LCMS Northern Illinois District (NID) pastors have taken up, is that of chaplain. A chaplain is a spiritual leader connected to a specific group within an organization, such as a unit in the military or in police and fire departments. These organizations recognize their need for spiritual care, and several of our NID pastors have obliged to serve them. In doing so, they fulfill their calling as God’s servants in a unique way, bringing the light of Christ not only to their congregation, but beyond, “to the ends of the earth” Acts 1:8.
The way the chaplains’ ministries looks can vary, depending on the type of department they serve, how long they have been there, and the expectations of the department. For example, Pastor Jerry Hays, St. Peter Lutheran Church, Schaumburg, provides an opening prayer at swearing-in ceremonies for new officers of the Schaumburg Police Department. Pastor Jim Buckman, North Shore/ Faith Lutheran Church, Lake Forest, visits the police station once or twice a week during a shift change, checking in and connecting with as many officers and staff as possible. Pastor Gerry Schalk, Pastor Emeritus, Fox River Grove, lives only two blocks from the fire department he has served for the past 13 years. The firemen all know him (they call him “Rev.”) and are glad to see him when he comes for training every Tuesday night.
What It Looks Like
In all these varying ways, these chaplains enable community, life together. Though sometimes we in our individual-centric society forget it, God created humanity to be in community. Scripture is full of admonitions indicating and commending the goodness of life together.
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Psalm 133:1
And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:25-26
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Proverbs 4:9-10
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
Passages such as this make it clear that fellowship is a human need. Our life together in Word, Wellness and Witness tends to this need. Every Christian can be a part, acting as a conduit of God’s Grace.
For first responders and those involved in emergencies, their ministries are especially important. “One of the most valuable services a chaplain can offer is to avail themselves to those professionals in the case that they say, ‘I really do need someone to talk to,’” says Pastor Jerry Hays. With all of the trauma, violence, and tragedy that first responders witness, it is no wonder that they would need someone to talk to. This proximity to suffering, stress, and hardship is as harmful as the physical danger itself. “If somebody says, what’s the thing that most commonly kills a fire fighter in this country—it’s the fire fighter himself. That’s one of the sad realities. The reason is cumulative and vicarious trauma. Your average firefighter will see more misery in one month than most people will see in a lifetime,” says Pastor Gerry Schalk, who teaches suicide prevention, grief management, and other classes.
Into the midst of such darkness, chaplains are able to bring the light of Christ. “For the LCMS and being involved in chaplaincy, I appreciate so much more about doctrine, because we’re not a church body that whitewashes what happens. We don’t paint a nice, colorful little picture of ‘everything’s ok.’ But instead, we look at what’s happened, look straight at it, and then we work with the person to take them through it,” says Pastor Bob Hoffman, Trinity Lutheran Church, Huntley. Through their prayers and their listening ears, chaplains provide a place of refuge, healing, and support for the battle-weary men and women who put themselves in harm’s way. And not only them—when responding to an incident call, chaplains tend to the spiritual needs of anyone at the scene, bringing comfort and human care.
How They Are In This Together
It’s not all trial and tribulation for chaplains, though. They also get to share in the joy and camaraderie of their departments. Pastor Buckman hosted members of a colleague’s daughter’s choir when they needed a place to stay on their tour. Pastor Schalk has a multitude of stories from his years of service; once, his department had to rescue a horse that had tired itself out in the winter and couldn’t get back to the barn. The family was so grateful they brought treats for the department.
In all, the chaplains are thankful for the opportunity to serve in this capacity. Though it can be difficult, and it adds more to a busy schedule, they see it as an opportunity to bring ministry into the community. Pastor Buckman offered a simple request when asked how people could help serve public safety workers and chaplains: “Whenever you see emergency lights, pray.” We are grateful for, and blessed in many ways by the commitment our chaplains have made to show God’s grace and presence in the lives of the people in their communities. And we should all remember Pastor Buckman’s words: “PRAY.”