Making Christ present – Being chaplain to the police
Fr Christopher Wood talks about his roles as Chaplain to Norfolk Constabulary and to people bereaved by suicide.
Making Christ present. If I had to sum up what I do, or certainly what I feel I am called to do in three different roles; as a parish priest and as chaplain to the Police in our County and also as chaplain to those whose lives have been touched by the death of a loved one who has taken their own life; I would say that in very different ways I am making Christ present. The three roles are linked.
I’ve been a member of the Norfolk Constabulary multi-faith chaplaincy for about seven years. We’re a voluntary team from different denominations and faiths. Working alongside people from other denominations while striving to offer similar support is a great model of ecumenism in action.
We cover the whole County, each having special responsibility for the police officers and staff within our area. Even with recent cutbacks that still means 5,000 employees in very varied roles. I never cease to be impressed by the professionalism and sensitivity of the men and women of the Police Force. We ask them to do extraordinary things and to put themselves in harm’s way regularly on our behalf. We often take them for granted until we need them.
My colleagues and I minister largely by hanging about in police stations, or going on shift with officers or visiting the many specialist departments. I’ve never encountered resistance and I wear my clerical collar at all times. I think a uniformed service has less suspicion of clergy. They readily grasp what we are there for and make use of our listening ear.
Our police work under constant strain and there is an often unrecognised peer pressure to put on a brave face at all times. In reality, the family life and mental health of many officers can suffer as a result of the toll this sort of work can take. Talking in confidence to a force chaplain may not only help an individual, it may also be a sign that the church can give on behalf of the whole community that these people are highly valued.
My other chaplaincy takes me to people who often encounter the police in a way they are never able to forget.
Having been involved in bereavement counselling for around 30 years, one of my specialist areas became the support of people bereaved by suicide. I was involved in one of the very few specialist support groups that came about because of the isolation of people bereaved by suicide whose grief was so intense and distinct from other types of loss or grief.
Almost every day I speak to someone whose life has been changed forever by the most tragic event imaginable. After decades of listening and standing beside people living with this special scar, all I know is that I can do it while many others can’t. I believe that is because Christ is standing with me and there is no sorrow he cannot share.
Two forms of chaplaincy, one public and visible and another intensely private. Both an enormous privilege.
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