David Stewart is the newest chaplain at the Bremerton Police Department, but he’s hardly a rookie. He spent about eight years as a chaplain with the Seattle Police Department.
Stewart was born and raised in Bremerton, but moved to the other side of the water in high school. He has been back in town for about two and a half years and is a social minister at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. In October, with help from the church and others, he started New Day Ministry directly across from the Norm Dicks Government Center on Sixth Street. They serve meals to those in need every Thursday at 6 p.m. and also provide clothing, household items and other assistance.
In addition, Stewart works with Parenting Youth Achievement mentoring kids from Bremerton High School. That work is done at the church’s parsonage about a block and a half from the school on 13th Street.
During his eight years as a police department chaplain in Seattle, Stewart found himself, time and again, face-to-face with people in the worst moments of their lives.
“When a person has a crisis, when an individual dies or is in the hospital fighting for their life, somebody needs somebody to console them,” Stewart said. “Someone needs somebody there to pray with them. The police can only do so much. But, after the police leave, they’re there by themselves. So, the chaplain comes in with some consoling and comforting. They take over when the police leave.”
As a department chaplain, though, there is still a connection with law enforcement, even if the officers are on their way to another call.
“The police, they’re gone, but yet there’s a part of the police department that is still there caring for you,” Stewart said. “We’re still there being affiliated with the police department. You’d be surprised how much that really, really does. Because when an individual, a mom, a dad, brother, sister, son or daughter, gets killed, all of the sudden that’s a lot of grief that hits you all at once. If you have somebody there, especially if you don’t go to church or something like that, somebody there just to help guide you through that for a few days, it really makes a difference.”
Through his years of experience, Stewart has developed a motto for facing the pain of grief and sorrow.
“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” he said. “That’s what I live by. When you show people that you care, that really goes a long ways in times like this when the body’s still there and you’re just there consoling them. It really goes a long ways.”
That can be especially true when people aren’t particularly religious.
“When you’re there as a chaplain and the person doesn’t have a church home, they don’t go to church, guess what they do, they call you up to do the funeral,” Stewart said. “I’ve had that happen to me. ‘We don’t know anybody, can you do the funeral for us?’ I’ve done that. Just being there and being with them, anybody welcomes prayer when it comes down to something like a death or somebody fighting for their life.”
Stewart points to prayer vigils following large-scale tragedies to emphasize his point.
“A lot of people come to prayer vigils when they don’t go to church, but they come because of what’s happened at the time,” he said. “On 9/11, all the churches were full of people praying, you know? It’s tough times. They realize that, ‘Hey, we need to pray.’”
Stewart says that volunteering to respond to tragedies or giving death notices doesn’t shake his faith.
“No, no, not at all,” he said. “It makes it stronger from the standpoint of allowing me to help someone else.”
One of Stewart’s stories stands out for the transformative work that a chaplain can accomplish. Stewart responded to a home where a disabled child had died overnight.
“So, I went and here’s the father, he is furious,” Stewart said. “He’s mad at God, he’s mad at everybody. There are three patrolmen there and three detectives there. He is just mad. I come in just chipping away at him where I can talk to him. We finally start talking, finally start listening. He asks me to go to the funeral and I went.”
One week later, Stewart took some food to the home so the father could have a barbecue for his surviving children and others from the neighborhood. The man told Stewart that he wanted to change his life for the better.
“Now, Monday I got a call from his wife, he’s in the hospital and his organs shut down and she asked me to come pray for him,” Stewart said. “So, I go pray for him, but he died the next day.”
Stewart isn’t sure how things might have turned out if he hadn’t made a connection with the man.
“Being a chaplain, being in this life, he got his life ready to the point when he died he had some right standing with God, versus if there wasn’t a chaplain there he might of done something crazy because he really did want to hurt somebody,” Stewart said. “Sometimes when you have pain you want somebody else to be in pain. That’s the way he was going.
“So, I hung in there with him,” Stewart continued. “I didn’t give up on him, and I was there for him. A week and a half (later) and he was dead. It’s crazy, but that’s life.”
Stewart says that’s why he chooses to be a police chaplain.
“I helped him get through to the point that he did some good stuff when he left,” he said. “I believe he’s in Heaven. I believe he was ready to go there by repenting and turning his life around in a week or so, versus if I wasn’t there I don’t know what would have happened.”