FREEHOLD – Father Mychal Judge of the New York City Fire Department, recognized as the first officially designated casualty of the 9/11 terror attacks, once summarized the mission of a chaplain – a cleric directly affiliated with a secular institution, there to provide faith-based counsel during times of crisis or tragedy – like so: “if you descend into somebody else’s private hell and stand there with them, it ceases to be hell.”

With those words in mind, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office’s Police Chaplaincy Program was formally launched yesterday, with Acting Prosecutor Lori Linskey welcoming more than a dozen current and future local police chaplains in Freehold to discuss their roles during times of need.

“The police chaplain’s role is to embrace the pulse of the department and its personnel, as well as the neighborhoods they protect and serve,” said MCPO Chief of Detectives John G. McCabe Jr., who along with Program Coordinator Lyddale Akins, created the framework through which the county’s top law-enforcement agency will now collaborate with more than 20 existing chaplaincy programs in municipal and other agencies countywide. “As the world becomes more complex, facing the problems of life can become more difficult, and chaplains can provide vital support for anyone struggling to find their way.”

The MCPO issued a formal directive establishing an official purpose, policy, definitions, and procedures for the new Program, including an application process, training guidelines, and a statement of ethics and guiding principles. To be designated as a MCPO Police Chaplain, a candidate must be a duly ordained member of clergy or a faith-based organization, having obtained a degree or certification from an accredited institution or course of instruction, and maintain an active leadership role in an existing religious congregation within Monmouth County.

On a rotating, volunteer basis, such chaplains must also be willing able to respond to any situations at which the presence of a chaplain is requested. Applicants must submit paperwork to MCPO and undergo a limited background check before being confirmed, then attend an orientation class hosted by MCPO, go through training related to procedures, and complete a basic 12-part curriculum.

“The application process is rightfully rigorous – we want individuals experiencing their darkest hours to have direct access to the very best assistance possible,” Acting Prosecutor Linskey said. “The goal of this Program is to establish a countywide safety net of faith-based leaders who are ready to respond whenever circumstances dictate, around the clock, every day.”

In accordance with the new directive, MCPO Police Chaplains could be requested to do the following:

  • Respond to scenes of tragedy, such as homicides, suicides, fatal accidents, etc.;
  • Assist with death notifications;
  • Visit sick first responders and/or their family members, at home or in medical facilities;
  • Attend funerals/viewings of first responders and/or members of their families;
  • Counsel individuals experiencing loss or trauma, at the individuals’ request; and
  • Attend and officiate at MCPO events, as appropriate.

Chaplains are also expressly barred from proselytizing – individuals in need can request the presence of a chaplain adhering to a specific religion or denomination, or express no preference at all. And language used by chaplains at official ceremonies or events is to be “universally acceptable and non-sectarian/non-specific to any one religious belief.”

“The intent of the Program is not to promote any specific religion, or even just the notion of religion,” McCabe explained. “Rather, it’s simply to leverage the myriad skills and deep compassion developed by men of women of faith in order to offer a helping hand to those in need.”

The inaugural group of MCPO Police Chaplain candidates includes the following individuals:

  • Bishop Paul Brown
  • Father Brian T. Butch
  • Imam Omer Kadri
  • Rabbi Ilan J. Schachnow
  • Rabbi Israel Burstyn
  • Rabbi Mark Kline
  • Rabbi Yaakov Wenger
  • Rev. Joseph Gratzel
  • Rev. Ronald L. Sparks
  • Rev. Semaj Y. Vanzant

Also in attendance at the Prosecutor’s Office yesterday was Rev. Gary W. Holden, Founder, President and CEO of The Police Chaplain Program and Lead Chaplain for the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office. Under Rev. Holden’s leadership, police agencies statewide began establishing chaplaincy programs beginning in 2010, with the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General holding annual police chaplains’ conferences since 2014.