Police Officer Ministers to Co-workers, Community

Hometown Heroes, Odd Jobs, People
on May 27, 2001

Law enforcement lured Bruce Clark into a profession, but the Lord, he says, led him into the ministry. His colleagues on the Mount Dora, Fla., Police Department rely on his efforts in both vocations.

An ordained minister and certified law enforcement officer, Clark, 49, dubbed Rev. Rambo by his peers, is something of a rarity. For 10 years, Clark has headed the departments Chaplaincy Corps of ministers who counsel officers troubled by job-related stress or personal difficulties.

Five days a week, Clark trades his pulpit at Bethel Assembly of God for a patrol car and pastoral work on the police force of this small central Florida town of 9,000.

Our chaplains dont preach, try to convert, or proselytize, he says. Most of the time were sounding boardspressure release valves.

His departments four active police chaplains are ordained members of the clergy from various denominations and all are members of the Mount Dora Ministerial Association. They serve on call on a rotation basis one week out of every four, in addition to their regular church duties.

Its a trend that has caught on in other law enforcement agencies, but its not as widespread as Id like it to be, says Clark, who initially joined the department as a senior reserve officer to head the corps of ministers.

Of the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies in North America, roughly 25 percent have the services of a chaplain, according to the International Conference of Police Chaplains. The ICPC has more than 2,500 members worldwide.

Chaplains who specialize in workplace ministry are a source of strength and comfort to law enforcement officers and their families, as well as to other police department members and the larger community.

Few professions are confronted with more situations that create emotional, mental, and spiritual burdens than that of todays law enforcement officer, the ICPC notes. Chaplains try to listen with empathy and experience, advising calmly in the midst of turmoil and danger.

People often have misconceptions about police work, says Clarks colleague and friend Roger Chilton, a lieutenant with the department. Officers deal with fighting, homicides, traffic accidents, and worse. Often they cant talk to their spouses, and they cant talk to each other.

Sometimes it takes a toll, Chilton says. Ive called Bruce at 3 in the morning or 10 at night. And its not just me. Ask any officer. Bruce is someone we can trust talking to.

Officer Bobby Ensley says Clark was a source of strength during the illness and subsequent death of his wife and, more recently, his mother-in-law. Bruce was there when I needed him, Ensley says. I dont know how Id have made it without him and the police department behind me. Hes a caring person, dependable day or night.

Officers tend to shy away from talking with their spouses about the danger and stress of their work, Clark says. They might talk to other officers, but in general, they wont say anything they fear might be construed as weakness.

As anyone might do to provide comfort, he says, I basically try to validate their feelings. I dont minimize things. I try to ask pertinent questions and find out what we can do to help.

I dont do clichésGod knows best, or It was her time. Rather, I talk to people to get them to express their feelings.

Sometimes, he says, help means just listening.

Being in law enforcement also has affected Clarks ministry. It gives me a very realistic look at life. I dont think anyone could accuse me of being in an ivory tower or say that Im not in touch with the real world.

Likewise, he finds his doctorate of ministry in counseling has given him added professional credibility. And in addition to counseling, Clark works as one of the departments accreditation staff, reviewing and rewriting procedures to secure Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation.

Like other officers, he says he, too, has felt job stress. In 1991, he experienced a delayed reaction after responding to a fatal accident. Soon after arriving on the scene, he realized the people involved were associated with his church. When officers go through something like that, they need someone to talk to, he says.

Chilton says he had often thought about that and wondered who Clark talked to. But then one day it dawned on me, Chilton says. He talks to God.