Tim Sizemore, of Macon, talks about what it’s like to be both the lead pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church and chaplain for the Byron Police Department.
Q: You’re a police chaplain and a pastor — how are the two different?
A: The difference I see is the focus or lack of focus on theology. As a chaplain, I’m not focusing on theology, I’m focusing on people, what’s happening around them and helping meet emotional and other needs. As a pastor, I’m always focused on theology whether I’m teaching, preaching, discipling or however I’m ministering. I don’t leave theology at the door as a chaplain, but my goal isn’t proselytizing.
Q: And you’re both a chaplain and a pastor?
A: I am. I’m pastor at Lighthouse Baptist Church on Sardis Church Road just off Interstate 75 and chaplain for the Byron Police Department. I lived in Byron until recently.
Q: And you’ve been in law enforcement, haven’t you?
A: That’s right. I served in Sumter County and at the Byron Police Department before going into full-time ministry and then becoming lead pastor at Lighthouse in 2015. I became chaplain at Byron almost two years ago, shortly after the murders of Sgt. Patrick Sondron and Deputy Daryl Smallwood in late 2016. I knew Patrick well and did his funeral. Leaving the graveside, Byron Police Chief Wesley Cannon asked me to become chaplain. I said I’d pray about it.
Q: Shortly after they were killed, officers were slain in Sumter County and there was another serious shooting incident in Crawford County with two officers wounded and a civilian suspect killed. Peach County law enforcement personnel were part of a combined SWAT team there. So you became chaplain on the heels of all that?
A: I had friends in all those jurisdictions and it certainly stirred something in me. Chief Cannon and I had lunch planned to confirm things, but the night of the situation in Crawford County he called me at 2 a.m. He said, “I can’t wait ... I need you to go to the ER now to be with these two officers.” That was the point I became chaplain and never looked back.
Q: But you’ve moved forward. Byron is hosting the Georgia Association of Law Enforcement Chaplains state meeting Aug. 14-16 and you’re a speaker. In addition to being a chaplain, you’ve taken on a role of advocate, too, true?
A: I have. Having been an officer is part, but I believe the public needs to understand these men and women are like any other human beings and don’t become robots when they put on a uniform. They feel and are affected by what goes on. Conflict and violence and death have a huge effect on everyone but most people have only a slim chance of encountering it on any given day. When they do, there’s a reprieve to doctor their wounds. On the other hand, officers are involved in conflict almost daily and on any given day there are good odds they’ll encounter violence or a death. In the midst of it, they keep going and remain faithful to their commitment to the public and their oath. My point is, when anyone ignores the feelings from what they go through, it has an effect emotionally and physically. We’re scarred. They fester. Add the level of public ridicule and climate toward officers you see today and it’s really toxic.
Q: So what are you saying?
A: I just want the public to be aware. I think officers do need to be accountable and responsible, even for a wrong, split-second decision. But be aware they’re people and not monsters. They’re dedicated souls who will give their lives so we can live in relative safety. And they’re susceptible to the effects of traumatic events and layering of what they see and go through daily.
Q: Is your role as a chaplain to help alleviate some of that?
A: It’s a misconception that we’re counselors. I think we’re more comrades with a compassionate ear, though sure, we do offer some counsel. But I think the two main things that make a good chaplain — whether for police, fire, sports, a hospital or any kind of chaplain — is, No. 1, being available to those you serve. You have to build a comfort level because they know you’re honestly there for them. Second, being a good listener. As a chaplain I try to give less advice and do more listening.
Q: The officers in Peach and Crawford counties and the wider law enforcement community suffered a lot of trauma in a very compressed period of time in 2016-17. How are they doing?
A: There’s been a lot of resilience, a lot of healing. I think they’ve responded incredibly well physically and emotionally. It’s tough. They’ve handled incredible adversity with extreme valor and healed well, but it’s a continuing process. We’re all like balloons — some of us can take more stress and others less, but if you take it on and don’t let it out, you’ll burst. If you don’t have someone to talk to, to be honest with, then its only time before the balloon busts. So I’ve got a lot of appreciation for these men and also for all the chaplains out there who give of themselves. Ninety percent of them get no compensation but still they stand with those they serve willing to be of help.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.