Students Partner with Chattanooga Police as Chaplain Interns
Southern is honored to be the first school participating in a new internship program with the Chattanooga Police Department. Selected religion students will receive training for specific, tense situations and also real time advice regarding social nuances involved in the more subtle human interactions essential to effective chaplaincy.
Interns will perform a variety of duties, including reaching out to victims of domestic violence at Chattanooga’s Family Justice Center, a newly-established organization which recently reached out to Southern and began a similar partnership involving School of Social Work graduate students. Interns will also conduct chapel services at the police department and participate in a ride-a-long program as officers respond to a call, an opportunity which gives them a chance to minister both to officers and to victims of crime.
“At first it surprised me is that one of our primary tasks would be ministering to police officers, but it makes sense,” said John Felts, junior theology major. “They see a lot of darkness out there in order to keep us safe, and consequently they carry a heavy burden.”
As Greg King, dean for Southern’s School of Religion, spread the word about this new opportunity among religion students, 11 excitedly signed up to be part of this inaugural group. They have the option of pursuing it as a practicum to get academic credit, or volunteering as part of a service-learning activity, something required of all students before graduation.
During February’s intern orientation, King and the students met volunteer police chaplains and took a short tour of the facility from which they would be headquartered. The police chief underscored the importance of having officers on his team who are emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy. In an intense career where it is easy to become cynical and emotionally depleted, the uplifting presence of chaplains is critical.
While many of the potential responsibilities may appear daunting for students, their primary task is simple: friendship evangelism. This “ministry of presence” allows them to get to know the policemen, gain an understanding of their responsibilities and challenges, and provide encouragement. If the officer is open to talking about spiritual needs, it could lead to a conversation about Jesus.
“We’re excited about this opportunity not only for our students to receive training, but also for our campus to have a chance to minister to the surrounding area,” King said. “We want to be a point of light going beyond Collegedale, finding meaningful ways to engage with the broader Chattanooga community and communicate the presence of Christ!”