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While the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office uses many instruments to protect and serve the public, Sheriff John Ingram implemented a chaplaincy program in May 2012 to serve his staff.
Brad Ferguson, the pastor at New Beginnings Community Church, went to Ingram last year and offered his help in the development of the program. Ferguson, who worked as a chaplain for Triangle-area hospitals in their trauma units, worked with Ingram to develop policy and procedure for the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Chaplaincy. It was officially launched last May at the annual BCSO prayer breakfast.
“The chaplaincy program serves two major purposes,” Ferguson said. “Primarily, (the chaplaincy) is there to support all employees of the sheriff’s office. Its secondary purpose is to support citizens of Brunswick County who are affected by crime or traumatic events.”
Ferguson said this is not a proselytizing endeavor; the pastors involved are not seeking an opportunity to recruit members to their churches.
“Statistics show us that 80 percent of the people in this county are unchurched,” he said. “These people that face these events many times don’t have a family support system or a church, so we help them through things like dealing with grief and funeral arrangements.”
The chaplaincy features eight pastors. Four of them alternate weeks of being on call.
“You have to remember, this is all volunteer,” Ferguson said. “We love to offer this service, but sometimes we can’t go.”
The BCSO Chaplaincy is part of the International Conference of Police Chaplains, as well as the North Carolina Sheriff’s Chaplain’s Association.
Ferguson said he doesn’t know many chaplaincies across the state as active as the one in Brunswick County.
“We are very much involved. This isn’t a situation where we just show up to say a prayer at a public function,” he said.
Ferguson said other departments across the country are larger and he looks to expand Brunswick County’s program.
“The chaplaincy in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., which is a much bigger area, has 30 active chaplains,” he said.
The other members of Brunswick County’s program are the Rev. Kenny Powell of Freedom Outreach Center, the Rev. Cary Godwin of St. James Missionary Baptist, the Rev. Rudy Ramphal of Brunswick Islands Church, Dr. Gary Bowling of Woodburn Baptist in Leland, the Rev. Eddie Hill or Sharon United Methodist Church, Brian Monroe of First Baptist Church of Southport and Paul Bauer, who is a licensed professional counselor and has background as a port authority officer in New York and New Jersey.
“The chaplaincy is mostly about presence,” Ferguson said. “There’s a lot of stress in working law enforcement for these deputies. They want someone they can come to when things get hard.”
Ferguson said the chaplains have learned in their training that about one law enforcement official takes his or her own life every day in the United States.
“We try to be there for them to vent, to share life, to talk about anything,” he said. “We love just to visit with them. We ride around in the patrol car with them at times and talk about life.”
Brunswick County Deputy Coroner David Crocker said his job is made difficult by the emotional toll it takes on him.
“I see these chaplains way too much,” he said. “I’ve knocked on too many doors at 4 a.m. and had to tell families someone isn’t coming home.
“These are stressful situations. The chaplaincy has been very beneficial for believers and non-believers. I’ve had very few people turn the chaplains down. These chaplains work hard. I praise them and appreciate them and the people we interact with feel the same way.”
The foundation of the chaplaincy is building a level of respectability, trust and confidentiality with the sheriff’s staff, Ferguson said. The deputies and other personnel have come to learn and understand that members of the chaplaincy program can be trusted.
“We’ve spent the last year and a half trying to build that trust, and I think we’re there now,” Ferguson said. “I’m very grateful to Sheriff Ingram for having a vision for this. He has provided all the resources to make this possible.”
Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.