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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'Anyone needs care, hey, we're here'

ELCA chaplains stand ready with a listening ear

With a smile as strong as steel, Paul E. Meeker strides past desks at the Bremerton [Wash.] Police Department. "Make my way through, just check on people, let them know they're appreciated. Anyone needs care, hey, we're here," Meeker said, ticking off a list of what he does for the local police.

For 20 years, the pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Bremerton has been a trusted, much-loved chaplain at the station.

A records clerk asks Meeker to pray for her son who is learning to drive. "Absolutely," he says before moving on. One officer's relationship with his wife has gone cold. Another's daughter is taking drugs and causing him pain, which he brings to work.

Meeker makes a special stop at yet another officer's desk. Her son killed himself a few years back. Meeker is front and center for her.

"A lot of times I call it a ministry of listening, just a ministry of presence," Meeker said.

Paul Meeker is an ELCA pastor and police
Paul Meeker is an ELCA pastor and police chaplain in Bremerton, Wash. He is one of about 20,000 chaplains in the U.S.

Quietly doing their job

No one knows how many chaplains serve in the U.S. Most, like Meeker, are volunteers who quietly do their work year after year, unnoticed by any larger organization.

David C. Johnson, president of the national Association of Professional Chaplains, estimates there are 20,000 active and retired chaplains in the U.S., though his organization only has about 4,000 certified members.


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