It was shortly after 3 am as I was rudely jolted from sleep by my ringing cell phone. Good news for pastors rarely travels at 3 am so I bolted from my comfy bed expecting an emergency. The call, from one of our Sheriff’s Deputies, informed me, as their Chaplain, of an officer-involved shooting. I was to learn that one of the officers from the Sandusky Police Department had been shot by a known individual who was riding a bicycle w/o lights early that morning. Unbeknown to the officer, this individual was illegally carrying a weapon and decided that he was not going to back to jail (he had been in prison prior to this incident) so when Officer Andrew Dunn approached him, the man pulled out his .38 special and fired six times, striking Andy under his vest severing an artery. Officer Dunn was able to return fire from his Glock .40 striking his assailant. The scene being adjacent to our local hospital, both were taken immediately to the ER.
When I arrived on scene, after walking through the parking lot, adjacent to where the shooting took place, I entered the ER, where both individuals were in separate curtained rooms close to each other. The trauma teams were feverishly working on both of them and 2 Life Flight helicopters were staged if transportation to a different facility was warranted. Upon finding out what was going on, I found the family members and had prayer with them. In short time, the entire ER was flooded with officers from surrounding agencies and everyone was eager to hear the news we were all waiting for that Andy was going to survive his wounds. Unfortunately, that did not happen. The surgeon informed the family that he had done everything he could but that his wounds were not survivable.
Unbelievable Pain and Grief!
I cannot describe the wave of grief that swept through that ER! If you’re a pastor, then you have probably experienced that to some degree. Shortly thereafter, one of the helicopters took off carrying the wounded shooter to a local trauma hospital where he would remain until his transport to the county jail. In my mind, the wrong helicopter took off. How could this be? How could the assailant survive and the officer die? Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Am I terrible for even thinking that? The image of deceased Andy Dunn lying on a gurney in the hospital is forever burned into my brain. The sobs of his family and fellow officers will never be forgotten. The subsequent funeral procession, the streets lined with thousands of mournful citizens, the bagpipes, the riderless horse, the helo flyover, all invaded my “normal” world, tattooed my psyche and to this day those memories cause a flood of emotions easily cascading out of control!
Thank God it’s rare
The vast majority of law enforcement agencies in our country will never experience a line of duty death. We did. It was gut-wrenching to watch these friends and the family of Officer Andrew Dunn endure what I would come to find out was “emotional trauma.” Unfortunately, some officers’ careers did not survive their trauma. This was a new term to me that I would find has far-reaching implications. My education was continuing and I was now beginning to see a parallel threat in what these officers go through and what pastors often go through. Betrayals in the church or church politics come to mind here in varying degrees. Can I get a witness?
No, pastors don’t face the possibility of lethal force on a regular basis. Although people entering churches with the intent to do violent harm is on the rise, pastors face a different type of emotional trauma. Due to my involvement in this tragic line of duty death, I would come to find out that the definition of emotional trauma is a “natural reaction” to an unnatural event. This is considered an injury no different from a physical injury, except this injury is an injury of the brain or psyche. Some call it PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Another way I describe it is an “emotional concussion.”
No, I’m good!
Whatever we call it, those who are subjected to these traumas, regularly do not seek help to deal with this painful experience due to the stigma of being thought of as weak. The last thing they want is some “shrink” telling them that they may be unfit for duty. However, failure to recognize and properly deal with this “injury” is one of the reasons many officers grow cold and become unapproachable at home. This “injury” causes one to withdraw, clam up and become lethargic.
Sometimes it’s “no-win”
Unfortunately, this is exactly what I have seen too many pastors go through over the years even though they are not subjected to the same “scenes” a police officer may be subjected to. The truth is that pastors have their own type of emotional trauma. They deal with crises in their congregations. Attendance and offerings can become dangerously low. They face betrayal. They are attacked and criticized for being either too liberal or too conservative at the same time! They are called out in the middle of the night to bring comfort when tragic news of the loss of a loved one is delivered. They are forced to deal with headstrong parishioners who seem to oppose them no matter what they propose or what vision they lay out to the congregation they love. Being thrust into “no-win” situations, parishioners at odds with each other, both convinced the other party is of the devil, pastors are forced to take sides potentially lighting a fuse to the “bomb” of further division. Pastoral advice and counsel is often times not taken or heeded while the pastor is labeled as the source of the problem.
No, you’re not bullet-proof!
It is difficult for many to get a raise in salary when they are just making ends meet and are expected to “sacrifice” for the sake of the kingdom. Believing they can do a better job than the pastor, some staff, like Absalom, undermine him to other congregants and other staff even if only due to their own wounds and insecurities. Searing through our servant’s hearts like a glowing red-hot spear, the pain remains the same from these attacks regardless of whether they were intentional, unintentional, perceived or real. Expecting us to be almost bullet-proof, most don’t even say anything on the rare occasion it occurs to them that we may have been hurt.
Just pray more?
For far too many, this seems to happen day after day; week after week; year after year until we reach the level of statistics we are facing today. And then someone comes along and tells the “injured” pastor to just pray more; fast more; get into the Word more. Now, please don’t misunderstand me or cast me into the abyss of those who don’t believe these are important disciplines. I DO believe they are important and not just important but vital! However, to those this is speaking to right now, you know full well that, at times, those things don’t always “work” the way we want them to, the way we think they should or even the way we preach they should.
For more, listen to the Emotional Survival for Pastors podcast at PastorJohn.net