Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Called to serve those that protect

Police officers, firefighters, national guards — their jobs bring them in contact with chaos everyday. They deal with and see things that most of us have only seen on TV. Who is supporting and seeing to their spiritual wellbeing? Some go to churches and get it there. But others do not, and they may feel isolated and alone.

Meet Rev. Dan Carlson, a newly rostered leader in the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Carlson was chief of police for Eden Prairie and a cop for 25 years. He retired from law enforcement in 2007 and started a second career as a chaplain to those who are in the public safety realm. He started his organization, Public Safety Ministries, Inc., in 2005.

As his retirement date got closer, Carlson began thinking what he would “do” after he retired. As a life-long Lutheran, he wondered what the church was doing for the spiritual health of officers. So, he entered Luther Seminary through the Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) program, and was ordained on August 15, 2010.

The Rev. Craig Johnson, Minneapolis Area Synod bishop (right), presides at the consecration of the Rev. Dan Carlson, chaplain for the Minnesota Chiefs of Police. Photo provided by Minneapolis Area Synod

“The public safety industry is a closed culture; they don’t open up. I was inside, and the welcome I have received is great.”

Carlson believes cops are called into law enforcement, and a big component of their lives is faith/spirituality-based. He says most public safety personnel are isolated and do a lot of their work alone. He provides some safe off-the-grid care. He says, “The public safety industry is a closed culture; they don’t open up. I was inside, and the welcome I have received is great. People have faith and are embracing it.”

A very “public” ministry

Pastor Carlson is chaplain for the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Hennepin County Chiefs of Police Association, Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association, and Minnesota Emergency Services Chaplain Association. These are his faith communities, his parish. When someone is sick, he calls on them. He provides training on funeral protocol for those in this industry. He also provides public safety leaders with spiritual care and support resources they need for personal spiritual fitness development.

Carlson feels called to build a strong institutional relationship with the Lutheran church. This is a challenge to encourage the church to change. “What I do is interfaith, about ministry to all, providing God’s love to the world. It’s not about trying to gather people into church. But this also is not about abandoning the parish and going out to do mission work. It’s about having them co-exist and enhance one another. I can’t do this without the parish support I get and vice versa,” he explains.

When asked what is life-giving about his call, Carlson responded, “When I can be on the road, be in an agency, or at a training of 500 people, and these people are struggling — feeling the toxicity of their job – and I am able to bring some light and hope into their world, and they know they aren’t alone, that their faith is important. Showing them that there is a God, that is what is exciting and life-giving for me in this ministry.”

Public Safety Ministries, Inc., is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization with a board of directors. The big challenge for a lot of non-profits is funding. Carlson is always looking for more partner churches. Current partners are Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, Excelsior; Oak Knoll Lutheran Church, Minnetonka; Faith Lutheran Church, Waconia; and Redeemer Lutheran Church, Minneapolis. For more information, contact Pastor Dan Carlson at 612/554-4405 or dan.carlson@publicsafetyministries.org.

Sara Masters is director of communications for the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This article first appeared in InterActs, the synod’s newsletter.

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