Pastoral Ponderings

Dear God,

You were there. In fact, all your people from the Old Stone Church were there.

You know I just started serving as a volunteer in the Rockford Police Chaplains unit. I don’t share a lot of what happens, but I think the members of our congregation would be surprised to know how I prepare for every call: by calling upon you for wisdom and strength, and by remembering that I represent an entire congregation of loving people who want to be of service to your world.

So it’s no exaggeration for me to say to both you and our congregation, “You were there.”

     You all were there. It was 2 a.m. I had just gotten home at 1 o’clock from a cook-out for the night shift after the police shootings in Baton Rouge. An hour later I received the call to come to Rockford to find the family of a 17 year-old boy who was shot.

Think of how disturbing it is to get a phone call in the middle of the night. More often than not, frustratingly (but fortunately), it’s a wrong number. If we can appreciate how much a phone call with a wrong number startles us, imagine having your doorbell rung or a knock on the door at 2 a.m. We’d cautiously ask who is there…frightened to open the door. You can imagine the things that race through a person’s mind when they see a police officer and chaplain standing in the dark.

It was the grandfather of the young man who opened the door. He gave the officer and I the mother’s address and we headed to her house while he went to the hospital. Going across town I knocked on another door and met the boy’s mother whom I drove to St. Anthony’s. The three of us waited for two hours in the waiting room: telling stories of their lives and speaking words of hope, only to have the doctor come with grim news about 5 a.m. There was the expected shock and emotion, the identification of the young man’s body, then silence, shock, disbelief. You were all there with me.

I got home at 6:30 and tried to get a bit of rest. At 9:00 I received a call to come to Rockford again to help notify a family of a death. Laughingly, it was about the family from the night before…someone forgot to tell the Detective Division that I had been done the notification. So much for sleep as I climbed into the chaplain’s van and headed to church to write a bulletin.

t to tell the Detective Division that we took care of that the night before. So much for sleep. Get in the chaplain’s van and head to the office.

You were all there that same afternoon. A man requested a welfare check on his brother-in-law whom he hadn’t heard from in nearly a week. It was during that 100-degree week. We found the man had passed away. Second story. No air conditioning. The coroner said he had likely died 4-5 days previous. I stood by the body and said a prayer: sorry that the man had suffered the indignity of not having been found earlier. I spoke to the brother-in-law who spoke gently of the deceased, but said the man had a long, difficult journey in life. He would tell the man’s sister. You were all there.

     You were all there. The Machesney Park PD asked for help from the Chaplain’s Division to find the family of a young man, 22, who had died in Rockford…likely from a heroin overdose. I went to various houses, made calls, and finally found the parent’s home. When I walked up the driveway in my collar and chaplain’s shirt I saw the young man’s mother. I asked if there was anyone with her and if we could sit down but she wanted to talk right there in the middle of the driveway. As she held the bucket to water her flowers I shared the tragic news and grabbed her when her knees began to crumble. The boy had been through drug treatment twice and appeared to be doing well, but heroin is far more seductive than most can imagine. I waited for more family to arrive before leaving them all to grieve. You were all there.

     You were all there again. The woman was 52 and died in her apartment. By the time I arrived her mother was there with friends. It took over an hour for the police to get the woman on the gurney and presentable for her mother to identify her. Her mother’s first words: “My poor baby. You died all alone.” I didn’t want to say anything, but I knew she wasn’t alone. You were there when she died, Lord, and all of you were there beside me in the aftermath: giving strength and offering compassion and grace in final moments. Rarely do I ever think of myself doing things alone…you are there with my entire congregation. Thank you, because I couldn’t do any of this without all of you.

Dan