Chaplains help Norfolk Police to build bridges
After a career as a chartered accountant, Richard Whall took early retirement 16 years ago and a new role as a chaplain with Norfolk Police. Sandie Shirley reports.
Richard Whall swapped his senior financial job for a voluntary, unpaid position, intent on building a bridge between community, police and the church and helping police officers cope with the complex rigours of the job.
For the past 16 years, as lead chaplain, he has supported and been alongside police staff and officers who are often at the sharp end of daunting and sometimes dangerous work.
“You only have to look at the daily newspapers or television to see the police in action. But in addition to the well-documented dangers associated with violent crime, police officers come into contact with situations, almost on a daily basis, that the general public would be unlikely to come across in a life-time,” says Richard.
Over the years, he has helped produce a new and evolving role for the Norfolk chaplaincy in a bid to meet the diverse and changing needs of the modern police force.
“The job has changed and God has changed me in the job, increasing my compassion and understanding of people’s diversity,” says Richard.
He is part of a ten-strong, multi-faith police chaplaincy and is currently recruiting four more members. The team is fully vetted and security cleared. It is made up of lay and ordained people from all the main Christian denominations and a Jewish Rabbi (with additional access to senior members of other faiths as required).
The chaplaincy extends across the county to support police on the front line as well as organising special events such as the Emergency Services Carol Service at Norwich Cathedral. Where appropriate, it can advise the police on faith matters and has a presence on police welfare and staff support committees.
Chaplains may be in the busy arena - accompanying officers either on the beat, with members of roads policing, or in the offices, control room or other specialist areas – but they also undertake pastoral care and prayer or sometimes simply make the tea.
“It is challenging and I like the atmosphere – you never know what the day is going to bring,” says Richard.
“The police are like one big family and I like to think that we are part of it,” he continues.
“But it takes time for people to feel comfortable in opening up with a friend, and that, in the end, is what chaplaincy is about. Trust can only be built by being alongside people wherever they are and being a familiar face. It is a privilege to earn their trust and respect, allowing them to open up about personal matters and operational challenges,” says Richard.
He draws on his previous experience in the workplace. “It has helped me understand people and the world they operate in. I have a wide experience of financial and employment issues having been made redundant, made people redundant and managed staff,” says the man who has also been a lay preacher, involved with Street Pastors and served on the YMCA board.
“Policing has always been a difficult, demanding and often stressful occupation, dealing with people at their most troublesome or vulnerable. But recent high-profile press coverage relating to terrorism, child and domestic abuse, trafficking, modern day slavery and drug county lines, for example, has meant that policing is under more scrutiny than ever and its nature is changing.”
Whatever the challenges, the uniform does not give immunity to personal feelings for the officers involved. Whatever the need, chaplains can provide a word of encouragement, listening ear, practical support or just a chat about anything from work, family, relationships, holidays or football, explains Richard.
“The chaplaincy is there for all officers and staff irrespective of rank or position – those of faith and no faith – but we are certainly not there to evangelise – at least not with words. If faith is brought up we will talk about it but faith is not necessarily what we do, but it is why we do it.”
Although a regular church goer since his teens, Richard came to a full understanding of faith in 1993. His son joined a church holiday club and continued attending a church youth club afterwards. Before long he wanted the family to join him and the youth group at Spring Harvest, a Christian residential festival.
“I hated it at first although everyone was very nice to me,” recalls Richard. “It was raining hard most of the time and the first evening there were about 3,000 people in the main tent and many were jumping up and down and waving their arms around. I couldn’t relate to it at all! Until then I had been going to a fairly traditional Methodist church over the years, mainly to keep my wife Gill happy.
“But three days later, during one of the sessions, everything clicked into place; it was as if all the pieces of an old building model were broken down and reassembled into something new. For the first time Jesus Christ and Christianity made sense as the truth of the gospel impacted my heart and changed the course of my life,” said Richard.
“Chaplaincy is based on confidentiality and trust. It is a calling from God and I believe it is where the church needs to be. It is about people and relationships and valuing the individual. It is a privileged position – part of the organization, but not of it.
“It sees policing from beyond the uniform, flashing lights and sirens. Without doubt, the men and women in the force are hardworking, conscientious and highly professional. They put themselves in harm’s way to protect us, yet society often seems to take them for granted – until they need them. I would encourage Christians and their churches everywhere to continue to uphold the members of the police and all emergency services, in prayer, as they carry out their duties.”
Pictured above is Richard Whall, lead chaplain with Norfolk Police.