6-24-13 W.Va. sheriff’s office begins chaplain program

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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — For years the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office has tried to start a chaplaincy program, but for one reason or another it has never been able to make it work.

That has changed in recent months, as the requests for a department chaplain have been heard, according to Sheriff Kenneth “Kenny” Lemaster. The kinds of situations to which many officers are exposed are often difficult to handle emotionally, Lemaster said.

“We deal with a lot of fatalities related to (Interstate) 81. We deal with a lot of infant deaths,” Lemaster said. “As law enforcement, you can’t wear your emotions on your sleeves when you work these heinous crimes.”

Chaplain Scott Sheets, who also is a pastor at Hedgesville Baptist Church, has been working with officers for about four months, he said. Sheets, once a member of the Martinsburg Police Department and a deputy sheriff in Florida, said he feels blessed to be in his position.

“It’s a brotherhood,” Sheets said. “I no longer wear a badge of law enforcement authority, but we’re still the brotherhood of law enforcement.”

Sheets said that as much as he can see he is helping officers, they, too, help him.

“I just want to help,” Sheets said. “I understand what they go through and wish for years I would have had a support system for myself.”

Chaplain John Unger, pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Harpers Ferry and Bolivar United Methodist Church, is assisting Sheets in the chaplaincy program. Unger said he has experience as a chaplain with Hospice of the Panhandle, as well as Jefferson Medical Center.

“Overall, we’re there to support them in their faith walk as well as emotionally and spiritually,” Unger said.  “In addition to that … when these deputies go and have to inform families of death notices, if a chaplain’s with them, the chaplains could be there for those families as well until their particular minister gets there.”

Unger, also a state senator, said he is serving outside of his political capacity, though those topics may arise throughout his time with officers.

“We may talk about some issues,” Unger said. “That doesn’t stop them from telling me problems they have as part of their jobs … but the primary reason I’m there is as a chaplain to support them emotionally and spiritually.”

Unger added he also is planning to chaplain for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.

All three men spoke of officers’ need of support from the community. For Lemaster, support like the chaplains’ is necessary for officers to remain healthy despite being exposed to trauma.

Sheets spoke of the nationwide community that is law enforcement and expressed his belief that it is underappreciated.

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