by Megan K. Mertz
“Chaplain, will you handle the death notification?” asked the chief of the Collinsville, Ill., police department.
It wasn’t the first time the Rev. William F. Engfehr III, then senior pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Collinsville, was asked to break difficult news to a family during his 20 years as a volunteer emergency-services chaplain. In this case, he had to tell the parents of an 18-year-old girl that their daughter had been killed in a car crash on the way to school one fall morning.
Engfehr met with the parents in a private room at the police station, where he provided what he calls “very simple care.” He told them what had happened, consoled them, listened to their stories and contacted a few of their family members and friends. At their request, he also arranged for them to view the body, which had already been moved to a local funeral home. In these situations, Engfehr said he usually contacts the family’s pastor or clergy, but the girl’s parents said they did not have a church home.
Later in the day, the parents went home with some family members, and Engfehr returned to his work at Holy Cross.
“When you work as a chaplain, you come into people’s lives during a moment of crisis, serve them and then never see them again,” he said.
But to his surprise, he did see them again, although it wasn’t until eight years later when the girl’s younger sister came to youth group at Holy Cross. Eventually, she started coming to worship services, joined an adult instruction class and asked to be baptized.
The entire youth group attended her Baptism and hosted a reception, where Engfehr was able to connect with her parents again.
“One of the things we remember of that day was your concern and care for us. You helped us in a very difficult time,” Engfehr recalls the parents saying to him.
“It reminds you that however short your contact is with a person, you may be playing a very significant role in their faith life in the future. It gives you energy to keep doing what you do.” — Rev. William F. Engfehr III
In his role as a chaplain, Engfehr serves through LCMS Specialized Pastoral Ministry (SPM), which trains and endorses ordained and commissioned church workers to serve the ill, imprisoned, aging, troubled, conflicted and isolated. Through chaplaincy, pastoral counseling and clinical education, these ordained or commissioned ministers encounter people in the midst of a variety of settings, as they bear witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus.
“Specialized pastoral ministers are blessed to be called by God to serve in the corners of life that initially may seem to be devoid of God’s presence,” said the Rev. Joel Hempel, interim director of SPM. “In emergency rooms, in prisons and rehab centers, and certainly on our streets, God sends chaplains to be Christ to those who are scared, hurting and going through crisis and trauma. Filled with compassion and accompanied by experience and the necessary skill set, those in SPM seek to provide a ministry of presence that is grounded in the promises of God’s Word.”
For Engfehr, the experience provided the joy of seeing God at work — first in the younger daughter’s life and later in the parents’ lives — when the entire family joined Holy Cross.
“It reminds you that however short your contact is with a person, you may be playing a very significant role in their faith life in the future,” he said. “It gives you energy to keep doing what you do.”
Learn more: lcms.org/spm