‘A Lot of Chances to Love People’

LCMS church workers serve in specialized settings like fire stations, police departments and hospitals, where they bring the light of Christ to those experiencing difficult situations.

As firefighters put the finishing touches on a new fire truck outside the Tahlequah, Okla., fire department, the Rev. Clifton Loman arrived for a dedication ceremony for the truck. Lohman serves as fire department chaplain as well as pastor at nearby First Lutheran Church and vacancy pastor at First Lutheran Church in Muskogee.

Serving Firefighters

Loman is new to fire chaplaincy. Some time ago, his wife and sons took a tour of the station and heard that the chief was looking for a chaplain. Loman was intrigued and reached out to the chief to start a conversation. Later, when the position was being discussed by the city council, the chief was adamant that the chaplain position should be paid due to the unpredictable nature of emergency calls. The position was approved, and the fire department got its first chaplain.

The Rev. Clifton Loman, pastor of First Lutheran Church, Tahlequah, Okla., and chaplain at the Tahlequah Fire Department, assists in the dedication of a new fire truck.

On the morning of the dedication, Loman assisted with the event, and then the crowd pushed the truck into the garage as it formally began its service in the community.

“Our Lutheran theology fits perfectly with chaplaincy as it fits so well with the daily life of the Christian. … We have grace on our side; we have Christ on our side and the love of God,” Loman said. The healing balm of the Gospel is vital to chaplaincy, he continued, as the men and women he serves grapple with the ongoing stress and trauma of their vocations.

Loman has a background in mental health and hospice chaplaincy and has served First Lutheran, Tahlequah, since 2015. His congregation warmly supports his work as a chaplain. Congregation members know that if Loman comes in a bit ragged in the morning, he must have had a late night at the scene of an emergency.

His challenge is time, and he purposely visits both department stations throughout the week while also prioritizing his work at the two congregations. The chaplaincy work has informed his pastoral care, while his pastoral care has shaped his chaplaincy. “Death and tragedy with first responders are an everyday occurrence, so when that shows up in the church, I am better prepared,” Loman said.

After the truck dedication, Loman took his family out for pizza as they prepared to leave town for a pastors’ conference. Just as they drove away, the radio squawked. It was a structure fire. But Loman can’t take this one, and that’s OK. It’s all part of the balance that he deals with every day.

Serving Police Officers

In suburban Park Ridge, Ill., just a short drive from downtown Chicago, police officers at the Park Ridge Police Department warmly greeted the Rev. Matthew Hoffmann, senior pastor of nearby St. Andrews Lutheran Church, when he arrived.

On this Wednesday night in April, Hoffmann made a point to visit during the officers’ shift change. A man recently had tussled with officers at the station and attempted to wrest away a firearm, and Hoffmann knew this incident was fresh in their minds. It is one example of the many kinds of traumatic events the officers routinely face in their vocations.

“I love being a police chaplain serving you,” Hoffmann said, standing in the station in front of a screen with real-time information on 911 calls. “Any time you want to talk, get a cup of coffee, … my number is up there,” he said, pointing to the white board. “Thanks for letting me be the one … on your side. I’m just grateful for you. I pray for you often.”

The Rev. Matthew Hoffmann, senior pastor of St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Ill., and police chaplain at the Park Ridge Police Department, visits officers at the station.

Hoffmann loves both caring for his congregation members and serving those who serve. “People who put their own lives … on the line to serve have a special place in my heart,” he said.

Hoffmann has been at St. Andrews since 2011. He didn’t pursue chaplaincy until he sat next to the now-retired chief of police at an event. The chief later requested that he serve as a chaplain to the department.

Hoffmann said he’s there to be a pastor, a confidant, a friend and someone who prays for the officers. He shares the love of Jesus and serves, at times, as a liaison between police and families at traumatic scenes.

“I’ve seen some terrible things, things I wish I hadn’t seen, and that does stay with you,” he said.

Even as a volunteer, Hoffmann is part of debriefings and after-event care that helps the officers cope with the recurring trauma of police work.

The congregation supports his work as a chaplain, and Hoffmann respects his call to the church as his primary vocation. He won’t take a phone call from the station if he’s preparing for Divine Service or caring for one of his members. But he visits the station regularly and has provided spiritual care to police officers and their families.

The police chaplaincy has “allowed me to get to know a lot of different people … and [provided] a lot of chances to love people,” Hoffmann said.

Training Chaplains

The Rev. Jeffery Scheer teaches other chaplains about how to apply theology. Scheer works as an Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) certified educator at the Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, a Catholic hospital system in Spokane, Wash. He teaches fellow chaplains, theological education students and laypeople how to apply their theology in one-on-one encounters with people in crisis through in-person and online residency programs.

The Rev. Jeffery Scheer, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) educator at the Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., leads a discussion with CPE students.

In teaching these interfaith chaplains, Scheer seeks to shape their chaplaincy care through the lens of Jesus Christ crucified. “Some of [the practical application] is learned on the job, but I think it’s more impactful if you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Scheer said.

He also serves as vacancy pastor at nearby St. John’s Lutheran Church. On a Wednesday evening in March, Scheer warmly greeted congregation members alongside his wife, Jin, during the weekly Lenten soup dinner.

Scheer and his wife, Jin, greet congregation members following a Lenten service at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Spokane, Wash.

“One of my many reasons that I remain participatory in the parish is to stay relevant. I can speak with currency,” Scheer said. His pastoral work at St. John’s overlaps into his Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) work, and his CPE work dovetails back into his pastoral work. “I can practice what I preach in both settings.”

Before taking on this role, Scheer served as a chaplain in senior living communities. The deep appreciation he holds for older generations and the wisdom shared by these people honed his skills for listening and teaching.

The next morning, Scheer sat down at Providence with three fellow chaplains and listened intently as they discussed a group reading from their CPE course. On some days, Scheer shadows the chaplains during hospital visits and helps them understand how they can better serve the patients.

The Synod’s ‘Unsung Heroes’

“Our LCMS church workers serving in chaplaincy roles are truly unsung heroes,” said the Rev. Brian Heller, manager of LCMS Specialized Spiritual Care Ministry. “They bring the light of Christ to those dwelling in the darkness of crisis and uncertainty. Their passion for providing spiritual care and the comfort of the Gospel to those in specialized settings is an incredible blessing to their respective communities and the church at-large.”

Learn More

Pray with Us

Father of mercy and God of all comfort, You govern, protect and care for Your church and the world through police officers, hospital workers, firefighters and many other first responders. Send chaplains who will comfort them with the message of Christ; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Erik M. Lunsford 

Managing photojournalist for LCMS Communications.

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