Preacher finds ministerial calling
For the past few weeks the Oak Bluffs Police Department has invited members of the community to participate in the Citizens Police Academy. The eight-week program is designed to educate residents about the department and to foster better relationships between the OBPD and the community it serves.
During one installment of the course, the class heard a lecture from Officer David Berube about being the department's Chaplain. Officer Berube spoke of the unique nature of his dual roles within the department and the challenges he faces as a counselor to both the force and the community.
Officer David Berube described his role as chaplain in a telephone interview with The Times.
Could you talk a little about your background?
I grew up in Connecticut and was ordained in 1987 by the American Baptist Churches USA. At first I served in a more traditional role as a solo preacher for several years. I then decided to join the Air National Guard and started working with people outside of the mainstream parish-type of setting. I moved to the OBPD in 1999 as a volunteer chaplain. The more I worked in a non-traditional setting, the more I realized that it was a good fit for me. In the summer of 2000 I did some training with the department just to be comfortable in the setting I was working in. Then when a full time job opened up I enrolled in the municipal police academy and became a full-fledged police officer along with being the department chaplain.
What is a chaplain?
My job as a police chaplain is not to bolster membership in a religion or to bring people into my faith community but to support everyone regardless of what their particular faith perspective is or isn't. My role is to assist people in questions of faith or whatever the issue may be. It's a non-sectarian role.
What are some of your duties as the OBPD chaplain?
I think the biggest highlight of being a police chaplain is that I have absolute privilege in my communication with my fellow officers. I'm not required to report the conversations I have with them to the chief or anyone, except in cases of child abuse or self-harm. What gets said to me stays with me and it's strictly private. Members of my department can come to me in a way unlike anyone else in the department. I will also get called out to do any type of death notifications or any particularly difficult calls or contacts in a crisis situation.
What prompted you to expand your role as chaplain to include policing duties? And would the use of force pose a moral conflict to you as a chaplain?
I think it was the sense that it would round out my calling as a pastor. For me the hallmark scripture passage for my ministry is the Shepard's Psalm; "Even through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will feel no evil, bear with me your rod and staff, comfort me." Obviously that talks about God and not an individual person. But for me as a shepherd under the Shepherd, there is the sense that all shepherds have the tools to herd and protect the sheep. The staff to guide and direct the herd from harms way. Then the rod, which is a weapon, is used to defend the flock from predators. I think for me stepping between the sheep and wolves, if you will, really has been the completing element to my role as a pastor. People may not really like that other side of the shepherd. In modern culture we don't see that role when we think of men of faith. We see the pastor as a simple, kind, and loving person, who would never even raise his voice. But the reality is that if all a shepherd does is herd the sheep, the wolves will have the opportunity to pick his herd off one at a time. Someone has to be able to step into that gap and protect the flock. I think that our culture has pacified the role of shepherd. I think of that role as a defender of those who cant help themselves.
What would you say is the hardest part of your Job?
I think maintaining the balance between caregiver and protector is the hardest part of my job. If you swing too far to either side, it becomes difficult. Finding the balance point is a daily thing because it is a moving target. How much care versus how much direction and authority to use is extremely hard in any given situation I am faced with.
Could you give an example of when your role as chaplain was called upon by the OBPD?
On July 7, 2001, we were called to a moped crash down on Seaview Avenue. It was pretty horrific crash. A young couple and their friends were out on the Island for the day. The young woman crashed into a car and died later that day. Her husband had witnessed the whole event. I pretty much spent five hours with him at the hospital giving him pastoral care. Most people just come to the Island and don't really have any idea what is going on. So we have developed a protocol for situations like that so the chaplain can help out in crisis situations.
Is there anything you would like the community to know about your role as police chaplain?
Just the idea that people don't necessarily know what its like to be a police officer. I want people to know that police officers are some of the most compassionate and generally human people that I know. And my role as chaplain is to take care of the people who take care of the community. It's a tough job.