June 27, 2021

Lessons I Learned as a Seminary Cop

Several decades ago, while a seminary student at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States, I discovered campus security wanted seminary students to work as campus cops. 

They said we were more mature than other students. I wasn’t about to disabuse them of this belief and jumped at the opportunity. I needed the job and, besides, who hasn’t dreamed of being a police officer? This would be as close as a pastor could get to work in law enforcement.

I was given a uniform, a badge, and a hat, plus a patrol car complete with a radio and a radar gun. My gear matched what the Berrien Springs officers had, minus the guns. Instead of a gun, I was issued pepper spray and a big flashlight. I took my job very seriously, no doubt thinking I was hot stuff.

Our team was given the radio code name “Charles 70.” We did exercise some authority. We had keys to all buildings and offices. But during my time with campus security, the Lord took the opportunity to teach me a few things on the job, things I needed to learn.

While working campus security, I learned how to talk to people about things that neither they nor I wanted to discuss … like the need to slow down. I learned how to support local police when they were searching open buildings at night and the danger they faced. I found out they appreciated it when I stopped on the highway across from their traffic stops, just to add some security. They would always radio their thanks.

I learned about mercy as I witnessed the heartbreak of having to put down a terribly injured dog with a shotgun, ending the poor animal’s cries of pain.

I also learned the power of light as I shined the car’s spotlight on a car parked illegally at a lovers’ lane late at night. You never saw such a whirlwind of activity! When the light shines …

Working as a security officer, I discovered there are times when no amount of talking can remove a threat. It must be done in a different way. I actually had to arrest someone.

The state of Michigan did not allow security personnel to detain anyone against their wishes, but they allowed for “citizen’s arrest.” I could detain someone if I felt they were breaking the law. In this case, a strange young man was walking near the girls’ dorm and refused to either identify himself or his purpose on campus. He just kept walking.

It was evident there were mental issues with this fellow, so I radioed for another officer, who came. Then I radioed the Berrien Springs police for help. The fellow refused to leave campus and fought us. We basically sat on him until the police came to take him away. Sometimes threats need to be dealt with very directly.

One lesson I learned stands out above the others. I saw firsthand how our churches should react when one of our own needs help. One day a desperate call from the St. Joseph area (about 20 miles, or 32 kilometers, away) came over the radio: “Charles 65, I’ve been stabbed! I’ve been stabbed!”

There was a pause, then the dispatcher radioed, “What’s your ‘20’?”

The wounded officer gave his location, and immediately about six or eight sheriff’s deputies and local police replied, “Baker 40 en route ... Charles 62 en route ... Charles 68 en route.”

I listened with rapt attention as someone arrived on the scene and shared the news that the perpetrator “was down,” and the injured officer would recover.

When someone is hurting in our church family, how fast do we go to their rescue? How quickly do we drop everything to offer our support?

The last lesson I learned is a rather embarrassing one. Once a week, I was required to work a night shift. Being young back then, I could do it ... usually! But by early morning, I just couldn’t seem to stay awake. It was around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., and I had to park the car and stretch out on the front seat. I kept the car running to keep warm. 

An early worker came onto campus, saw my patrol car, and came to investigate why there wasn’t anyone seated in it. They saw me sleeping and later reported their discovery to my boss. He was kind about it, but it was an embarrassment to him and to the department. I never did that again.

I learned a valuable lesson the hard way. I do not want the Lord to find me sleeping at my post! I don’t want to cause Him that kind of pain.

Pastoring a church has many parallels to my work as a campus security officer. The lessons I learned have served me and my members well through the years. I pray they shed some light on your ministry as well.

The original version of this commentary was posted by the North Pacific Union Gleaner and is reposted here with permission.