Local Pastor Ministers to Police and First Responders
When the average person gets pulled over for a traffic violation, they don’t usually see a ministry opportunity.
They grudgingly hand over their license and plead with God for grace. But when Pastor Jermaine Gayle was pulled over, he saw an opportunity for which he had been praying.
Gayle, who pastors the East Lansing church, had been “praying about reaching people of influence in [his] city.” Gayle, however, was not expecting his prayer to be answered through flashing lights. “The Lord answered in an embarrassing way,” Gayle says, “I got pulled over for running a stop sign.”
Gayle and the police officer struck up a friendly conversation and “after he learned that I was a pastor,” Gayle says, “he was kind enough to extend an invitation to do ride-alongs.” Gayle accepted, and the friendship turned into an “official invitation to serve as the chaplain for the East Lansing Police department.” Gayle’s influence and the way he ministered to the officers he encountered proved fruitful.
After serving as the chaplain for the East Lansing Police department, Gayle was extended an invitation to serve as chaplain for the East Lansing Fire department as well. “The Lord had blessed our efforts with the police department,” says Gayle, and they shared the impact he was having within their department with other first responders.
Gayle understands that his role is first and foremost for his church, and that the church “is allowing me to serve at both departments in our community.” His involvement, however, allows for church members to be involved in several projects conducted by the city. An example is a yearly city-wide food drive, an initiative with which church members are heavily involved. Church members and police officers worked together to deliver collected items to shelters in need.
After the tragic shooting on Michigan State University’s campus in February 2023, Gayle’s position as chaplain for the police department meant that the church was able to serve the community and the students, traumatized by the unfortunate event. The church opened their doors “as a space for first responders to meet and to go through the process of dealing with the trauma,” says Gayle. In addition, “we’ve also opened up our church to the city after the shooting for students to have a place to also work through what they’ve experienced.” Through Gayle’s connection, the East Lansing church was able to minister to students and first responders after such a tragic incident. The church’s ministry was extended because of Gayle’s position as chaplain.
Gayle’s main duties include, but are not limited to, spending time with the officers as they are working, or doing “ride-alongs,” essentially, “riding in a police car with an officer, talking with them, and interacting with the community under certain circumstances,” explains Gayle. He has also conducted funerals on behalf of the police department.
Under some circumstances, if there has been a death in the community, Gayle will accompany an officer to a relative’s home to “communicate the sad news, while offering some comfort to the individual who has suffered the loss, which often leads to a lasting relationship due our being there for those who mourn,” he says.
His main goal is to minister to the officers and first responders themselves, who often see horrible, unsettling scenes on the job. “First responders,” Gayle explains, “see a lot of very challenging things. You can imagine a house is on fire… a first responder must take that call, they are not just thinking about the fire, they are going to think about the loss too, and often the reflection is, ‘I have a family too.’” These difficult moments require support, both mental and psychological, but Gayle explains that the support oftentimes “dives deeper into spiritual support.”
Seeing disturbing scenes can cause first responders to engage with important spiritual questions, such as, Why did God allow this to happen?, a question to which our unique Adventist belief of the Great Controversy provides a clear and solid answer. Gayle is there to minister to their needs, whether spiritual or not. He is there to help them “to process [what they have encountered] a little bit better.”
Gayle explains that, when it comes down to it, his responsibilities are to “be there and listen, to help officers process at times the difficult aspects of their work and other times to engage with them personally about whatever areas or subject matter they would like to discuss, including spirituality. What makes this ministry such a blessing, is that one quickly learns that, because someone wears a uniform, that doesn’t mean that they are not in need of spiritual, emotional support and have an earnest desire to know the Lord. What’s encouraging to see at times is having the opportunity to pray with an officer before he/she begins their work.”
Gayle’s ministry has resulted in police officers and first responders becoming involved in church activities, such as an after-school program for children. Recently a first responder personally thanked the church for allowing Gayle to minister to their department. Some officers and first responders have also begun attending church services and are involved in Bible studies.