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Pastor gives 'soul comfort' to officers

September 09, 1999

Rev. McPhersonBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




Washington County's police chaplain is an anchor in stormy seas.

The Rev. Bill McPherson provides counseling and comfort to Washington County Sheriff's Department deputies, and acts as an extension of the police agency to aid crime and accident victims in the community.

"I provide soul comfort for those who are going through tragedy or moments of stress," said McPherson, 46.

The pastor at Christ Beth El church in Hagerstown for a decade, McPherson has volunteered his time to the Sheriff's Department since July 1998.

"He's an excellent individual," said Lt. Doug Mullendore. "He does a lot for us out here."

McPherson offers a confidential ear for law enforcement officers to vent their stresses, rides along with officers to gain understanding of their work, comforts and helps inform accident victims and their families, and serves all the Sheriff's Department's death notifications.

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He's on call 24 hours a day.

"We page him and he shows up in his red Corvette or his motorcycle," said Sgt. Tom Newton. "I don't know what we'd do without him. He's got a knack for talking to people and calming them down."

Raised by fundamental Christian parents in an oppressive household, McPherson drifted from the church for years before a "beckoning of God" brought him back in the late 1970s, he said.

He realized he had a gift for understanding and communicating the Bible, and wanted to spread the "uplifting" word of God, McPherson said.

So he enrolled in a ministry school in Baltimore in 1981.

The self-described "egghead" furthers his education through reading and attending various classes, including the 40-hour police chaplains' course he completed at the University of Maryland.

But no amount of training can ease the difficulty of serving death notifications- especially about children, McPherson said.

"There is no gentle way, no kind way, no good way to tell someone a loved one has died," he said.

"I don't think anybody wants to look a mother in the face and tell her that her child has died in a tragic accident. To look in her eyes and know you've devastated her life forever. That's a moment when you have to muster every strength so you don't fall apart yourself."

McPherson said knowing that his unenviable task pales in comparison to victims' anguish gives him that strength - if only for the moment.

The first time he notified parents about their child's death fell on the same day he was slated to help his daughter with her wedding plans, McPherson said. He didn't break down until after he'd done his job.

"I had to go home and grab my own kids and hug them," he said.

McPherson said he shelters his wife, Sandy, and his children from the stresses of his work, instead leaning on Lt. Mullendore's shoulder when the pastor needs a patient ear.

He also relies on the constant comfort of his "greatest resource" - his faith in God.

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