Timber merchant, pub landlord, professional musician, TV producer…not the career path you’d necessarily associate with a police chaplain!
As part of the force’s multi-faith chaplaincy team he acts as a confidante for any officers or police staff struggling with stress, illness, relationship problems, bereavement or work-related issues.
The team of more than 40 chaplains give up 4,000+ voluntary hours a year to offer support, guidance or simply a listening ear to…and were popular recent winners of the “Welfare at Work” West Midlands Police ‘Diamond Award’.
How does a wood seller and pub landlord become a police chaplain?!
I’ve been a Christian for more than 20 years and in the past have been actively involved with two local churches, a youth group and chaplain for the 80th Boys (and Girls) Brigade in Hall Green. I’m not a full-time vicar. I’ve had a varied career, certainly, including a stint as a professional keyboard player. And for the past 20 years or so I’ve been in television production making, amongst other things, police DVDs aimed at keeping school children safe and steering them away from crime and anti-social behaviour.
Some people still harbour stuffy clerical stereotypes of anyone involved with the church but in the vast majority of cases that’s way off the mark!
How long have you been a West Midlands Police chaplain?
I started my police chaplaincy in Solihull in 2009 following a conversation with then borough Police Commander Gordon Scobie. I met him to discuss his involvement in a training video; talk turned to my chaplaincy work with the Boys Brigade and he asked if I’d consider being a police chaplain. Given the stress and strain that comes with police work I thought there would be a demand for such a service so I agreed.
Things have moved on and I’m now developing a community chaplaincy idea with Solihull Police for local residents. The idea came about after chatting to an officer who identified some ‘regulars’ who calling the police station with quite trivial issues…and it seemed they perhaps really just wanted a cup of tea and a chat. I suggested a community chaplaincy could help…and we launched the service last month. At this stage it’s just open to residents in Olton but once we have leaflets available local officers will be able to promote the service to anyone in the local area. I have a team of four people (out of Olton Baptist Church) plus myself who will be available to visit people.
How popular (if that’s the right word!) is your police chaplaincy service?
Yes. Police officers can encounter serious injury, death, or emotionally testing situations perhaps more than any other profession. I help officers unload their emotions or come to terms with anything disturbing they may have seen.
But it’s not just a work-related service: people can have stress, family or personal difficulties, illness, spiritual issues or the whole range of life problems at any time. I couldn’t say how ‘popular’ my service is – I dedicate a minimum of two hours a week on average, sometimes significantly more, and am kept busy during that time. I try to chat to as many people as possible, to get to know them, so they see me as friend, independent ear and someone they can confide in.
How can a Police Chaplain help?
At the most basic level I can listen! I’m not a counsellor but sometimes an outside opinion can help…but I don’t pretend to have all the answers! Often the opportunity to tell someone how they feel can be good medicine…but I can also offer an independent opinion on any issue or suggest another service that might be appropriate.
I had such an occasion last year with a staff member who’d received notice of redundancy. I could see they were upset but trying not show it…I asked a few questions and eventually got to the issue. I was able to encourage and help them see the opportunities this could provide rather than just the negative – though “oh s***” is an understandable initial reaction to losing your job. We spent 20 minutes chatting and afterwards they were clearly less fretful. This person said I walked through door at exactly the right moment. This is the essence of Chaplaincy. We can’t solve issues but we can help talk them through and bring light to something that appears very dark and for me knowing that you’ve made even just a small difference to someone is a huge reward.
With police officers, they don’t just need to be physically fit but also in a healthy state of mind. If an officer is bottling up worries it can have an impact on their ability to do their job to their maximum potential. The chaplaincy is here as a support structure and for them to offload any concerns which, ultimately, benefit them and the public they’re serving.
With the police force still seen by many as a ‘macho’ environment is there often a reluctance to seek support for fear it could be deemed as a sign of weakness?
Some people, especially men, feel going to the doctor is a sign of weakness! So discussing problems with a relative stranger can be a little awkward…although many find it easier to talk to a stranger.
Talking about things that affect us in our work or life is a healthy thing to do as often the discussion puts things into true perspective. Often after a suicide people say “why didn’t he or she talk to someone?” I want to be that someone and don’t think it’s a weakness; in fact it takes courage to recognise you need support.
Is it a religious service or can non-believers seek chaplaincy support?
That’s a common misunderstanding or misconception of the role. It’s important police staff and officers know I’m not here to judge or criticise in any way. I am chaplain to all no matter what faith or no faith – I am not here representing a Christian ideal, I have a genuine desire to be a support, friend, whatever folks need.
I’m not naïve enough to think the service appeals to everyone – some may be dismissive or reluctant to ask for help – but all I can do is make myself available. And I’d say most of the people I’ve spent time with have been pleasantly surprised by how our conversations have helped.
How many different faiths are represented in the force’s chaplaincy team?
All the six major faiths are represented: Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikhism, Hindu and Judaism to represent the diversity across police officers and staff; plus we have faith advisors from pagan and Quaker backgrounds. We don’t cover all official religions…we have officers who follow religions like Zoroastrianism, Taoist and Rastafarianism but, at present, there are no chaplains from those faiths…but in the future who knows.
Who does a chaplain turn to for a listening ear?
I can also go to my own minister…or often talk things over with my wife.
April 20 is National Volunteers Recognition Day – do you enjoy volunteering and what would you say to anyone considering taking up unpaid voluntary work?
I enjoy people…so having a people-focused role is something I enjoy. I’ve met a lot of different officers and staff and am humbled by both their acceptance of me and their willingness to include me. I’m definitely made new friends.
There is huge reward to volunteering: it can boost your self-worth, help develop your skills and introduce you to lots of meet new people. The satisfaction of knowing you’re being a positive force in a world that’s too often negative and cynical is a good feeling.
And I hear you’re an award winning Chaplain?!
Well it’s a West Midlands Police Diamond Award for the force’s multi-faith chaplaincy team as a whole. It’s great the chaplaincy has been recognised…but for me, knowing I’ve been able to help someone is far more relevant. I became a chaplain for the purpose of being able to support those who need someone to talk to or encourage…not for awards!
From: Shirley-born Andy now lives in Acocks Green.
Day job: Production company owner. Work is far harder to find than five years ago – I do more charity programmes than commercial productions – but I’m still in there fighting!
Home life: I’ve been married for 16 years, no children…and definitely won’t be having any!
Hobbies: I enjoy films and music. I had a spell as a professional musician when I was younger playing keyboards…but my shot at pop stardom in the 80s didn’t last long! I occasionally play drums and percussion at church.
Church: I attend Olton Baptist Church which meets at Langley Senior School at 10.30am on Sundays.