For U.S. Missions chaplain Paul D. Ellis, serving first responders is a family calling. A third-generation minister, Ellis, 65, is also a second-generation chaplain. His inspiration to become a police chaplain came from his 89-year-old father, Ron, who modeled community outreach as part of his pastoral ministry.
As a child in Montreal, Ellis sometimes sat in a fire truck while his father responded to calls as a police and fire chaplain. Following his father and his grandfather Donald before him, Ellis became a pastor in 1975. Three years later, he began his ministry as a chaplain to first responders.
In 2002, Ellis joined the International Conference of Police Chaplains (ICPC), which provides fellowship, training, guidance, accountability, and support to over 2,300 chaplains in every inhabited region of the globe. The ICPC pursues a worldwide mission of “developing professional chaplains through dynamic education and support.”
This year, the organization’s chaplains elected Ellis to serve as vice president. As a veteran chaplain of over four decades, he brings a wealth of experience to the office. As the vice president, Ellis will oversee and assist the regional directors in their work of training, recruitment, and verifying credentialing of chaplains
“The years of chaplaincy ministry Paul Ellis has provided have proven to be the leadership ICPC needs to help law enforcement agencies during these unprecedented challenging times,” Reighard says.
As part of the group’s core values, ICPC chaplains “pledge availability to the needs of law enforcement officers and victims of crime.” In this ministry of presence, they must often practice the biblical admonition to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Police chaplains are often called upon to come alongside people “at the lowest point of their lives,” according to Ellis, who lives in Maricopa, Arizona.
Recently, Ellis rushed to a McDonald’s restaurant, where an employee had committed suicide. At the scene, he tried to allay the anxiety of 18 remaining staff members —mostly high school kids — who had just lost a co-worker.
Chaplains also respond to crime scenes, sit with grieving families, and assist officers with death notifications. They may accompany law enforcement officers on rescue and recovery efforts, provide ethical and spiritual guidance, and perform weddings and funerals. They also serve the families of police officers, including those who have lost a loved one in the line of duty.
First-responder chaplains provide a safe place and a listening ear to help officers process the trauma and stress they encounter daily.
“Police officers face cumulative career traumatic stress,” Ellis says. “They are victims of every call they’ve been on.”
Chaplains help law enforcement officers handle this emotional burden. This assistance helps clear their minds of events that happened on difficult calls and can help keep them from developing post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ellis says it is important for Christians to “honor and respect officers.” In the current cultural climate, many feel hated and discouraged, he says. Family members of law enforcement officers often feel scared and ostracized by stereotypes, insults, and threats directed at their loved ones, according to Ellis.
“There are those who violate the oath and cast a negative light on others, but this is not the norm,” Ellis says. “Most officers are doing a great job,” despite routinely facing split-second decisions and heart-breaking situations.