Thursday, June 02, 2011

When the going gets tough . . .

. . . the tough call the chaplain.

One of the things about being a pastor that is simultaneously invigorating and frustrating is that he's often called upon to interact with people at the lowest points in their lives: illness, suffering, destruction, and death. On the one hand, he's doing what he's been Called by God to do, and that keeps a pastor moving when it seems like the meetings are endless and the busy work becomes a heap on his desk. On the other hand, a pastor worth his salt tends to get emotionally involved with those he serves, and that can be draining when it's his constant diet.

Pastor Dean Kavouras of Cleveland, Ohio, is very good at walking that ever-so-thin line straddled by service and sanity. He served those who sifted through the remains of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He serves as a chaplain for the FBI and for Cleveland Emergency Services. And He is also a faithful Lutheran pastor to a congregation. Yesterday he sent out what he calls a "Chaplain Field Report" in which he recounts a situation and the pastoral care he offered to those involved in that situation. This is, at times, what it is to be a pastor.

I warn you, the event recorded in this report may disturb you.
Chaplain Field Report
Cleveland, Ohio
June 1, 2011

Dear Friends:

The weather turned beautiful in Cleveland today, from a wintry/spring to instant summer.  But the devil also came to Cleveland on this fine day to offset its wonder with full strength dose of evil.  A 31 year old man went to the home of his lady friend and attempted to murder her 10 year old daughter by cutting her throat, and did murder her 5 year old son in the same manner.  The injured girl ran down the street to the nursing home where her mother is employed, and people there called the police.  When police arrived the suspect exited the house with a steak knife in his hand, refused all commands to drop the knife, and charged the officers.  All three discharged their weapons and stopped the suspect who was grievously wounded but is still alive at this time.

The event occurred in Cleveland, but at the last house before the Warrensville Heights border.  WHPD arrived first and did the shooting.  Cleveland police arrived shortly thereafter and so did WHFD, CFD and CEMS.  Because the incident occurred in Cleveland our crime scene unit processed the scene and all involved were understandably distraught.

For my part, I positioned myself in the driveway and spoke with individual officers as they took short breaks, and provided the presence of God via the Office of the pastor.  This brought comfort and the eternal perspective to a scene that desperately cried out to heaven for it.  There was no gallows humor today as there often is at crime scenes.  Instead I listened to people's reflections and gave theological answers and quotes from Scripture in reply.  The general message was that as dark as this situation is, death and the devil have been defeated by Jesus who entered into gruesome death for our sins, and rose again; also that at the end of the day God will sort it all out for us, but until then we will do the work He has given us to do, and lean on Him for comfort and strength at all times and in all places.

Once the process was complete and everyone was ready to leave I asked if anyone would like to gather for prayer.  There was no hesitation. We gathered on the sidewalk in front of the house.  I read the 23rd Psalm "yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and they staff they comfort me."  I also read from St. John's Gospel "Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid, you believe in God believe also in me...peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."  I then prayed a spontaneous prayer taking in all the concerns that people had voiced.  We all joined the the Lord's Prayer and I gave the benediction.  As I spoke the final amen there was a brief silence and then one officer quipped with a smile: I hope the ACLU doesn't get a copy of this.  The humor was a good sign!

We said our good bye's and from there I went to the WH police station to see if I could be of any assistance to officers there since not all departments have a chaplain.  I spoke with the lieutenant on duty and he filled me in on the situation and condition of his people.  I then asked him where the fire station was since they, too, were knee deep in this incident.  He walked me to the next part of the complex which houses the fire department and met briefly with some of the personnel and heard more of the story from their perspective.  Since a Critical Incident Stress diffusing was scheduled to start soon I left, but on the way out I noticed several people from CEMS who were there early for the diffusing.  I spoke with them, listened to their story and had prayers for them.

From that horrific scene I came home to my 61st birthday party with all my kids and grandkids in attendance and we had a wonderful evening!  My wife, St. Barbara, planned it all out and the kids pitched in to help.  We began the meal by singing "Jerusalem The Golden," one of my favorite hymns and just what the doctor ordered. My son Theo played the piano and all the voices joined in, it was the perfect balm for such a day.  Tomorrow I will follow up with a few people and await the next call.

Thank you for reading.

Rev. Dean Kavouras, Chaplain
Cleveland Emergency Services
FBI - Cleveland Division

We do a disservice to our public servants who put their lives in danger day after day if we ignore the trauma they experience in dire situations, whether or not they themselves experience physical injury. Their service in explosive situations takes its toll on them, just as much as it does on those who are the victims of fires or violence or terrorism. Thanks be to God for men like Chaplain Kavouras whom God has equipped to bring the Word to bear for their sake. (And thanks be to God for the family that helps to sustain the chaplain when he comes home!)

I want to be Pastor Kavouras when I grow up.

1 comment:

chaplain7904 said...

Al thanks for posting this. In all cases God be praised through Christ. Dean Kavouras is less than nobody, Christ is all in all.

I have received kudo's over the years, and my troops think I'm a genius, but I am not. All I do is open the book and start reading. The doctor doesn't heal, the medicine does. Yes, he is part of the scheme but the medicine of the Gospel, and the One who gave it, Christ Jesus our crucified and resurrected Lord, He is the Great Physician worthy of all praise, glory and honor.

With that clear preface I will list a response I got to this report from a member of our CSI (SIU in Cleveland), who helped process the scene. These responses show even heads as thick is mine that the word of God works just as stated in Scripture, and that the work God has given me to do is not in vain.

He writes: Thanks Reverend. The first thing that guys in my unit talked about upon returning to start their reports, was your support. Not what happened, not what the scene looked like or any of the other banter that usually surrounds such events. The FIRST thing they talked about, was your support. 'Nuf said.

I won't won't describe the scene but it was beyond awful, and deeply affected these seasoned veterans. But the word of God towered over even such grim death. Why? Because Christ, who is the Word of God made flesh, has overcome death. As the hymn says: Jesus lives the victory's won, death no longer can appall me. Jesus lives death's reign is done, from the grace Christ will recall me. Brighter *scenes* will then commence, this shall be my confidence. (TLH #201,1)