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November 19, 2019

11/7/2019 4:18:00 PM
Working behind the scenes; chaplains provide important 'ministry of presence'
Chaplains pictured with Sgt. Anklan, rt. and Chisago County Sheriff Thyen, have learned to expect either being welcomed with open arms or an air of ambivalence, in times of trauma.  Meet them in our feature story.
Chaplains pictured with Sgt. Anklan, rt. and Chisago County Sheriff Thyen, have learned to expect either being welcomed with open arms or an air of ambivalence, in times of trauma.  Meet them in our feature story.

When your job is to protect and serve, who’s going to be there when you need someone to lean on or help sort out your thoughts?  When you have filled in the last line on yet another senseless fatal vehicle crash report, will there be somebody you can talk to?

There is in Chisago County.  

Not every law enforcement outlet has spiritual practitioners on their roster, but Sheriff Todd Rivard (retired -2010) initiated a chaplain program in the mid 2000s and there’s been chaplains in Chisago County ever since.  

Chaplains help many navigate the major moments in life:  hospitalizations, nursing home care, military trauma, corrections settings, you name it.  Chisago County Sheriff’s Chaplains’ policy states the first priority is to sheriff’s personnel, and they’ll also be there for other local levels of law enforcement and will console and support civilians personally impacted by tragedies.

Sheriff Brandon Thyen observed that deputies, dispatchers and officers are trained to be sharp in the moment, and to respond tactically.  Law enforcement personnel tend to file disturbing experiences, no matter how impactful, under the category just ‘doing their job.’

That’s why chaplains exist;  to provide an outlet, help process emotions, help law enforcement step back and understand.

 Sheriff Thyen points out that Chaplains Lee Beecher, Ruth Titus and Mike Waddle have really put in an extra effort to be available to and interact with the law enforcement community. They have re-enforced the message that you can talk things over privately and share a bond with the local chaplains.  

Chisago County chaplains are volunteers. They may find themselves called out all hours of the day or night for anything from an unexpected death at-home or a SWAT incident mobilizing multiple agencies.  

Sgt. Derek Anklan, the chaplain program coordinator, applauded this trio for making themselves available and being open to providing whatever a situation calls for. The chaplains have background in officer training and know what goes into split second decision-making inherent in police work.  Still they continue to learn and expand their knowledge, Anklan said.

The longest-serving Chisago County Chaplain is Lee Beecher.  He and Ruth Titus (who started with Waddle three years ago) participated recently in a regional chaplain conference in North Dakota.

Titus said the gatherings are invaluable because she always learns something she didn’t know.  Because it was in the Dakotas-- this conference included a session related to crowd mentality and community issues that can be encountered at an incident like a demonstration against  a pipeline.
Conscious counsel

All three seem comfortable with a sensitive aspect of their position in the sheriff’s offices-- being able to recognize when they are serving as sheriff chaplains and when to transition into a pastor (religious) mode.  It’s  not that they aren’t allowed to switch hats, but they need to be clear about which hat they’re wearing.

Titus has a professional background in couples counseling and Beecher and Waddle are leaders of area religious communities.  
Beecher motions towards  his black polo shirt that has the word chaplain stitched on one side, and explains, “We’re not just pastors with chaplain shirts.” 

In the continuum of their service, there is always a point where they avoid any path that veers into investigation, resembles legal advice or is overtly religion...unless the recipient wants religious comfort specifically.  The chaplains are very comfortable with requests for reading scripture or arranging for a sacred rite when it’s clearly called for.

Especially apparent in today’s diverse culture;  the chaplain must be skilled at assessing someone’s level of traditional religious foundation. These three are less and less surprised when they hear expressions of non-Christian or non-belief.  Titus said the chaplains are trained to listen intently and if their frame of reference is not what’s called for they are happy to contact another spiritual community.

Waddle says, “Every situation can be different.”  Sometimes people on the scene don’t even want to talk while on the reverse end of the spectrum, he has been invited to preside at a funeral for someone he encountered through his chaplain role.

Beecher comments,  “You just have to be very ecumenical in your thinking.”

All three believe the end goal is to provide a successful connection; meaning they were able to listen, provide a calming influence and be a positive force.

Waddle remarked that the appearance of a “chaplain” on scene certainly elicits a response.  It might be either really negative emotions and  it may be a positive reaction.  

“It (arrival of a chaplain) can open a door or close it,” he has observed in the heat of things.

Chaplain Titus almost wishes there was a different word for describing what they do.  People generally have personal history with the word chaplain and it usually makes one think of preparing for the worst.  

She’d like it understood that people become chaplains because they want to be a stress reducing presence, give guidance and serve as a resource.

If you might want to participate in the Chaplain Program you can start the process by contacting Sgt. Anklan  at  651-213-6317 or e mail Derek.Anklan@chisagocounty.us.

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