|Local pastor finds chaplaincy ‘opens doors’|
A UMNS Feature
By Andrew J. Schleicher*
July 6, 2009
As a volunteer police chaplain, the Rev. Alex Vergara answers all
kinds of calls, such as going to court on one occasion to help a
teenager who had landed in trouble.
“A high school boy got arrested and went to court with other teenagers for driving with an open bottle,” Vergara says.
The family asked him to help the boy, who was on his way to college, so
Vergara spoke with the judge and got leniency for the teen. The
chaplain recently joined the family in honoring the young man as he
graduated magna cum laude.
The Rev. Alex Vergara
A local pastor, he does his chaplaincy with the Honolulu Police
Department. Many police and fire departments cannot afford to hire a
chaplain full time, so they rely on the contributions of volunteers.
Vergara has been in ministry for 33 years. Since retiring from active
ministry during the June 17-20 session of the California-Pacific Annual
Conference, he plans to devote even more time to his chaplaincy work.
“It opens a lot of doors in the community,” he says.
The United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry
approves chaplains for volunteer work in a process similar to the
endorsement process for full-time chaplains. There are 205 United
Methodists approved for volunteer chaplaincies, with 1,236 endorsed
chaplains, according to Tom Carter, director of endorsement with the
board’s United Methodist Endorsing Agency.
Endorsed chaplains primarily work full time in the military and in
medical institutions, or as pastoral counselors. Volunteer chaplains
spend most of their time in local churches.
Vergara got involved as a volunteer chaplain when one of the Honolulu
Police Department chaplains retired. He enjoyed the work so much that
five years later he volunteered as a chaplain for the FBI and then
became the first sheriff’s chaplain.
He is one of seven chaplains – six Christian and one Buddhist – serving
the Honolulu Police force. He provides counseling, house blessings and
other types of blessings for members of the department, and also
conducts wedding services. In addition, he teaches stress management,
ethics and integrity, and other courses at the police academy.
While he has had a police chaplain car for the last decade, Vergara
also rides along with officers during operations and sometimes is among
the first responders to a shooting or other police call.
“In my 33 years, I have seen a lot of homicides," he says.
In those instances, Vergara is immediately on the scene to comfort the mourning.
The most difficult situations are suicides, he says. “My first suicide
was a high school kid," he recalls. He also helps notify families of
Vergara may be called to the scene of hostage situations as well. He
works alongside psychologists in providing assistance. For example, he
helped arrange for a church to make space available for a negotiating
team when a man had barricaded himself in his car with his girlfriend.
Help is needed
More volunteers are always needed. “I encourage pastors to take a look
at their local police departments to see if there is a need," Vergara
Carter says elders and deacons interested in volunteer chaplaincy
should check with other organizations and agencies as well. “The
important thing is their ability to provide ministry to people in
crisis and stress,” he says.
More information about the chaplaincy is available by contacting Carter at (615) 340-7411 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting www.gbhem.org/chaplains.
*Schleicher is a writer and editor living in Nashville, Tenn. This
story first appeared in longer form at www.gbhem.org, the site of the
United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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