A police chaplain has a front-row seat to tragedies.
As one of 11 chaplains for the Louisville Metro Police Department, Bill Weedman doesn’t usually get phone calls with good news.
“The similarity in being a chaplain and pastor is you’re rarely called to a situation where there’s a lot of happiness,” said Weedman, who also serves as campus support pastor at Southeast Christian Church’s Indiana Campus. “Nobody ever calls and says, ‘This great thing has happened. Will you come out and celebrate with us?’ That’d be awesome if it was, but police never get called when something good happens. They always get called when something bad happens.”
Weedman, a retired LMPD major, has seen the fragility of life because he deals with death all too often.
“A LMPD chaplain serves the officers by serving the community,” added Weedman, 66. “When an officer responds to the scene of a homicide and you have a distraught family member—like a suicide, overdose or unexpected death—we actually serve the officers by serving the people they’re trying to help. The officer may not be equipped in handling grief, so we’ll help the family or friends deal emotionally with what’s just happened. That’s 80% of being a chaplain.”
Weedman also speaks to officers about the difficulties of the job, grief, finances, marriage and faith.
“It is always, ‘I got a question for you,’” he said.
Those conversations have led several officers to be baptized. Weedman also has spoken to thousands gathered at memorial services for fallen officers.
Weedman said his past police experience has been an asset for the Kingdom.
“I found it more powerful talking with officers as a former major for the police department who can say, ‘I’ve been there. This is what Jesus helped me with. This is what I’m working through,’” Weedman said. “I have a heart for young police officers and helping them navigate a very difficult career in a God-fearing and ethical way.”
Weedman is grateful for the team effort of chaplains—including a former Secret Service agent, two retired officers and a rabbi—who are willing to serve the community behind the scenes.
“I am part of a really good team,” he said. “We have each other’s back. This isn’t the Bill Weedman show. They have a deep love for serving people.”
After a 30-year career in law enforcement, Weedman said when you’re so used to sad situations, it can become routine and easy to “detach” from suffering.
“I spent a whole career walking into tragedy and figuring out, ‘OK what do you do?’” Weedman said. “Here’s what I struggle with being a pastor/chaplain. I got used to tragedy a long time ago with what I saw as a police officer. I was a professional detacher during my police career. A 16-year-old girl killed herself. A baby was attacked by the family dog and died. Unfortunately, I carried that into ministry. I would hear about tragedy and respond matter-of-factly.”
After witnessing unspeakable suffering, Weedman said it took the heart of Jesus to overcome his detachment from people’s pain and love one person at a time.
“I am learning the art of not detaching, if you will,” Weedman added. “What I’m trying to unlearn is to stop detaching from my lover side. It’s OK to put it on hold. I asked (retired Southeast Senior) Pastor Bob Russell one time, ‘How do you do a funeral for a child?’ He gave me some pointers and said, ‘The last thing you need to know is nobody wants a pastor who’s going to be a blubbering idiot. They want a pastor who’s going to stand strong with them and empathize. Get all your crying out when you meet the family.’ So, it’s OK to cry, but don’t lose control.”
Though Weedman walks into countless tragedies as a chaplain, his goal is helping people take their first baby steps out of that tragedy. He recently visited a church member after her husband died.
“With our backs to her husband’s body on the hospital bed, I sat down next to her, and she let me put my arm around her. I said, ‘I’m just so sorry.’ I just want to grieve with her,” he said. “My job at that point is to help people with what’s the next step. When you have tragedies, people are like, ‘I don’t know what to do. This event forever changed my life and I don’t know what I’m going to do now.’ She was refusing to let that go and acknowledge he was gone. She wasn’t going to leave his body. So, I did the same thing with her. I said, ‘OK. What’s next?’ I prayed a long prayer with her and said, ‘Are you ready to take that first step?’ I stood her up and walked her out of that room.”