On Wednesday I skipped one of my normal ABCNJ days to join my fellow chaplains at a “fallen officer” memorial service before the Burlington County monument. I didn’t realize the service would be be outside, so my face has gone all lobster, but it was small price to pay for the experience.
I’ve never been to one of these services, so I wasn’t certain what to expect. It was a moving ceremony, in which State Trooper Sean Cullen was added to the memorial. He was stuck and killed last year as he responded to an accident. Since accepting the invitation to be a police chaplain in Palmyra officer deaths, and stories of particularly brutal crimes, have taken a more personal tone. They’ve always impacted me, as have stories of officer involved shootings, but now they are part of my world in a way they’d not previously been.
What made the service more humbling was our chief’s response to our question, “So where do you want us to be for the service?”
“You’ll stand in formation with the officers.”
This floored me. The other chaplains and I are not officers. We don’t face the same struggles, or face the same dangers, they do. In a lot of ways we’re “resident aliens” in the world of policing, and some of the other chaplains present actually sat in the bleachers behind the formation. But that morning our chief said, “You belong with us.”
So as the names were read, words were spoken, and wreaths laid we chaplains stood in formation with the officers who take the same risks as those memorialized on the monument. And the weight of what that monument means became much more clear.
It was an honor to be involved.