As I write this I’m flying the first leg of the trip to Philadelphia to attend the Christian Community Development Association’s (CCDA) yearly conference. CCDA is the organization founded by Dr. John Perkins. At the conference will be about 2000 pastors and leaders who are engaged in or care about community development activities in a Christian context. For more about CCDA there is a link on the right. I’m thrilled to have Pastor Bains and NCUD board member Gilbert Chaidez joining me for the conference. I’ll try to post updates during the next few days. After the conference I’m going to travel up to New York to have with Jeremy Del Rio and hopefully Dimas Salaberrios as well at take a day or so in the city. I love New York…
Many know that I’ve been training to be a chaplain for the East Palo Alto police department. The chaplaincy was recently started by Pastor Bains to serve the needs of the department and community. I prayed about whether or not I should serve in this way. I’m so busy already. But, I had a clear sense that God was calling me to do this and that this is an area in which I can make a difference.
Thankfully this year has been more peaceful year in the city. Last year we had 15 homicides. This year, while starting horribly with the murder of police officer Richard May, has been relatively quiet in comparison. I attribute the difference to prayer, the community’s response to the violence and good leadership by Chief Ron Davis.
After church on Sunday and Samuel’s baseball game we settled in for a quiet night together. We were preparing Sam for a week away at science camp and I for the CCDA trip. I was preparing a late supper (a new recipe…) for the family, chatting on the phone with my mother when Pastor called. Moments before I heard the cacophony of sirens. We live on the route for fire trucks, so sirens are not uncommon. However, this time something seemed more urgent. I remarked to Melissa when I heard the sound, “Something is wrong, too many sirens.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised when Pastor called.
Pastor asked me to come to Three Brothers Taqueria on University Avenue. Only five hours before we grabbed a burrito after church and before Sam’s game. We are frequent customers of Three Brothers. The pasta was just reaching the ‘al dente’ stage - so I quickly finished up the meal preparation, changed clothes and jumped in the car to head to the scene.
When I arrived at the corner of University two Highway Patrolmen blocked the intersection. I identified myself as a police chaplain and they allowed me through. I parked on the corner of Bell and University and waited for Pastor to arrive. Police cars surrounded the taqueria. Once Pastor arrived we walked into the scene where a covered body was laying on the ground. We were escorted into the restaurant to assist with the patrons who witnessed the event. Many were shaken; the restaurant prior to the event was busy filled with lots of people including families with small children. We stayed in the restaurant for a time, speaking to and praying with the patrons who requested. After a short while we were asked to follow a rather large policeman to speak to the family.
Months before at our training we practiced making a death notification. The training itself was intense and disturbing, the ‘real thing’ is indescribable. I’m very thankful that we had that practice. Without it I would have had no reference on how to conduct myself. The family, upon receiving notification erupted into wailing and tearful grief. The policeman, having to attend to the investigation, left us with the family. We did all we could do to offer prayer and comfort. All of our efforts to me felt insignificant, but nonetheless I know it’s vital to the family and their healing process. Pastor Bains, thankfully, called another female chaplain to help. In addition we called the local Catholic priest and the pastor to the victim and his survivors. I was especially impressed with Father. He is an older man with many years of ministry under his belt. He was composed, focused, relaxed, attentive, compassionate and ‘loose’ at the same time. I could tell he had done this before. His experience and demeanor taught me a lot.
Our role as a chaplain is two fold. Our first priority is to care for the family, doing what is called the ‘ministry of presence’. The second is to be available to serve the police department in any way they request; water, food, running ‘interference’, serving as a liaison with the family when requested. There are two types of chaplains, law enforcement (of which I am) and community. The law enforcement chaplains have the added blessing to provide pastoral counseling and support to the police department.
The evening was long. Each time a family member would arrive to the scene the crying would begin anew their grief inconsolable. It was especially hard to hear the victim’s mother asking God, “Why?” Throughout the night the family would ask for information about the investigation and process. They, understandably wanted to see the body - but because of the circumstances and the case that wasn't possible . In all, we were there for around five hours.
The evening ended with Pastor Bains, Father Goode and I kneeling before the body as Father administered the last rights. The remaining police officers looked on with respect.
I learned much that night the call of God to provide comfort the grieving, the need to continue the fight against violence and injustice, the need for the Gospel to penetrate and create change in lives and communities. I walked away with a greater respect for the police department and the work they do. I’ve at times been critical of some police tactics and approaches. There are many heroic officers who have a horrible and unending task to do. There are many brave men and women who serve us. I’m privileged to support them.
Please continue to pray for our city. This was our third homicide for the year; I pray it’s our last. We’re concerned about an upsurge of violence in the city and need the Body of Christ to cover us with thoughts and prayers for protection and peace. While I wish it was, I’m sure this won’t be my last call to provide prayer and assistance to the police department and the city. I have much to learn - many ways to grow. The presence of Christ has meant so much to me. So many people have been agents of God’s peace in my life. It’s the least I can do to offer the same peace to others.
Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'