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A ministry with risk

A ministry with risk

Rodney Chatman March 15, 2017

You are having your worst possible day. Your spouse has died suddenly or is being rushed to the hospital after a heart attack. Or your best friend has been shot. Who are the first people you see, the first with any opportunity to aid you spiritually?

They are the first responders, the police, the EMTs.


I am a police officer. And my spiritual life is part of who I am. I see my career as a ministry.

Mixing faith with work comes with risk. It’s hard to know if one should ask a person who has just seen an ambulance take away a loved one, “Do you mind if I pray with you?” But it is a question I asked when working on police forces in the public sector. And one that has been answered with gratitude.

I saw the opportunity to come to the University of Dayton as executive director of public safety and chief of police as a chance to authentically be who I am, to have my work life intersect with my spiritual life. At UD you can authentically pray for people; there are other people with whom you can express your faith.

So much of what we do here centers on prayer. If there is a crisis, a national tragedy, we respond with a prayer service. Monthly, people of all faiths and backgrounds and beliefs and cares and hopes gather outside the chapel and pray for peace.

People here often open their meetings with a prayer. Within public safety I have started a virtual Bible study group. Early in the morning I send a verse to my colleagues. Those who the verse may touch can respond to the group. Or someone affected very personally may just respond to me. In December we did Bible trivia, with questions one day and answers the next.

My role in ministering in crisis is different here from what it was in the public sector because of the existence of Campus Ministry and numbers of people who can offer spiritual aid. Working with Campus Ministry has been wonderful. Father Kip Stander, S.M. ’73, blessed our vehicles. We had a Mass for police officers during National Police Week. [National Police Week is annually the week of May 15, National Peace Officers Memorial Day.] And there was a Mass for first responders attended by police in uniform, EMS students and the broader community.

And, like the rest of campus, we try to do things for the Dayton community. At Easter, we provided baskets for people in a shelter. At Christmas, we had Shop with a Cop for some children from the Dayton Early College Academy and Holy Angels School.

At the center, there is community. And that’s not always an easy thing. I was struck watching a television interview recently about changing laws to allow guns on campus. One participant was a Virginia Tech shooting survivor; the other, a student who had been robbed and assaulted. One’s response to guns was “No! No! No!” The other’s, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” But the interview showed us clearly both positions because of the skill of the interviewer, NBC’s Tamron Hall. That’s what the power of community can do. It can’t make us all alike. It can bring us together to live in love and respect.

I am in a profession that can help harness the spiritual power in a community. It is a profession with much risk and difficulty. Police officers are being shot at. They are in situations in which they need to have the temperament and the training to minister effectively to people.

Right now, we could use one thing from you. Prayers.