Public safety chaplaincy comes to the rescue

Christian News Northwest

A Mission of Love and Support
Public Safety Chaplaincy offers support, training for chaplains serving public agencies throughout Oregon

BEAVERTON, Ore. — When tragedy strikes and emergency workers and members of the community are faced with the most difficult day imaginable, people need a little help. Enter the many Christian chaplains that serve a variety of public safety agencies —and the world around them — as they seek to be the hands and feet — and ears — of Jesus.

And providing the resources and support for many of the agencies throughout Oregon is the Public Safety Chaplaincy. Based in Beaverton with offices at the Luis Palau Association Link Center, PSC has the goal of not just providing chaplains to the agencies and communities they serve but making sure they also have the training and support needed.

The group, which started more than 40 years ago by supporting Beaverton Police Department, now serves 50 agencies and six counties across the state. Amongst the agencies they place trained chaplains in are police, sheriff and fire departments, 911 call centers, state police and the FBI.

Though many agencies do go it alone, PSC President Brian Forbes says there is added value in the service PSC provides.

“Our organization attempts to bring chaplains together into a brotherhood,” he told CNNW. “We train them so they can be sure they can rely on each other, support one another, and we work with agencies to make sure they have best chaplain they have available to them.”

To accomplish this, they oversee the Oregon Chaplain Academy, a statewide effort that aims to make sure chaplains are educated with similar philosophies and training across Oregon.

“The Chaplains Academy is a very intense one-week program, but we also continue to make sure chaplains get ongoing training as well,” Forbes said. “We also ensure chaplains have mentors to help them for at least the first six months of their career.”

Forbes said that chaplains are charged with a dual role — first with providing the support needed to bolster the resilience of first responders and secondly to provide support to community members when tragedy strikes. An example is chaplains being on scene in a tragedy-caused death and explaining to loved ones what happens next.

“When there is a particularly traumatic call (our chaplain) can come out with us,” Lake Oswego Police Chief Dale Jorgensen explained to CNNW. “As we go and make notifications to community members, he can talk with community members about those traumatic experiences. He’s a resource for our community.”

Jorgensen, who also serves on the board of PSC, said that having the chaplains help with death notifications or other tragedy is a big help as is the after care they can provide.

“Not only do they lend support to community members, but (they also help deal with) the aftermath (of those incidents) for the officers,” he said. “Our chaplain is able to help them navigate through some of those (issues).”

Another example of the service it provides is its community assistance funds, a program that provides gift cards for such things as hotel stays or food, that can make that worst day imaginable a little more tolerable.

“We get a chance to serve people in literally one of their deepest, darkest points of life,” said Chaplain Mike Vermace, who serves the Lake Oswego Police Department, together with numerous other agencies in Clackamas County. “We get to step in the door on their worst day. (It’s) a wonderful opportunity and a scary opportunity. We get invited during a time people are looking for comfort, looking for someone to sit with them in their darkest hour. We’re a ministry of presence.”

Vermace, who has been a chaplain for 15-plus years, also worked as a pastor for more than three decades. And now, with the support of PSC, he raises support as a missionary so he can devote his time to the calling of serving public agencies and their communities full-time. He said he counts being able to serve first responders as a unique blessing and hethanks God for opening doors for him to serve in this way.

“Am I able to proselytize? Absolutely not,” he said. “It’s really a unique ministry of presence where I get the chance to be the hands and feet of Christ in a difficult situation,” he added.

Though chaplains aren’t able to be overt in the sharing of the gospel —unless specifically asked —they do get the chance to show His love in action.

“If a chaplain receives (a request) from officers, they’d be more than happy to do a Bible study (or do) one-on-one mentoring,” Forbes said. “But, given they work within state or city or counties, they have to be careful. They have to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves to do their work.”

PSC also provides a forum for chaplains to encourage one another.

“We do a lot of bringing chaplains together so they can share stories and share resources,” Forbes said. “It’s definitely a strong bonding community.”

“It’s a great organization to be a part of for the training,” Vermace added. “One of the things I appreciate is they’re building a structure of support and care.”

A Critical Role of Support

One crucial element of the chaplain role is the mental health support they provide.

“The first responder role is very challenging — first responders have higher rates of committing suicide, alcoholism and divorce,” Forbes said. “We find that emotional resilience is key for agencies (and that’s where chaplains) provide a huge support to an agency.

“Our chaplains our specifically trained in how to help first responders deal with critical incidents and stressful situations through the training they receive. (They) can spend time with first responders and really help them process that and be able to bounce back more quickly and get back to the job.”

And though a chaplain’s role does intensify when emergencies arise, that’s not to say they aren’t active on a daily basis.

“They’ll stop at fire stations on a daily basis or ride in police cars just to get to know the officers or go in to a call center just to stop by and check-in with people working there,” Forbes said. “They’ve built those relationships in advance so that when there is an emergency, (first responders) trust the chaplain and are comfortable in coming to them.”

Recruitment of Chaplains

The Public Safety Chaplaincy is continuing to look for the next person looking to serve the Lord by serving the state’s first responders.

“We’re always looking for more individuals who have a heart for first responders and willingness to work in this type of environment,” Forbes said. “For those that are called, it’s an incredibly important and powerful role. I would encourage agencies who aren’t participating with us and are interested in a coordinated chaplain program to reach out to us as well. I think there’s a lot of value from the consistency, training and support we provide to get the right chaplain on board, (as well as) the contracts we have in place with the agencies.”

To find out more about PSC, visit

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