Mary Shore smiled to herself as she hooked her new badge onto the edge of her sweater and walked through the doors of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
Once inside, she followed senior chaplain Richard Thomas through the corridors, shaking hands with each person she met along the way.
While making the rounds through the office, Thomas often stopped to chat with employees and ask about their families and personal lives.
Thomas has been a chaplain with the sheriff’s office since the program started seven years ago. During the years, he’s come to know many of the department’s nearly 500 employees “pretty well.”
He personally introduced Shore to each person they encountered so she can start building strong relationships with the employees, too.
Thomas said building relationships with the staff is one of a chaplain’s most important responsibilities.
“We have to build relationships with them so when they do need us, they’ll let us in,” Thomas said.
The office has 12 volunteer chaplains but Shore, 67, is the first woman to serve in the program.
Chaplains minister and provide counseling to employees, inmates and members of the community alike. The volunteers are often called to the scenes of accidents or crimes and are asked to deliver death notices to next of kin. They also help law enforcement officers come to terms with the emotionally difficult situations they encounter on the job, such as a shooting or other fatal tragedy.
“For instance, the dive team when they pull a body out of the lake, (officers) have issues sometimes,” Thomas said. “That bothers them so we minister and take training to learn how to deal with post-traumatic stress that occurs with them after they go through something like that.”
Chaplains undergo special training courses every two to three months to effectively handle any situation they may find themselves in and maintain their legal boundaries.
Because of their training, chaplains are often sought out by law enforcement officers for the more emotionally and spiritually delicate parts of the job.
“One of the most difficult things that law enforcement officers have to go do is notify next of kin about the death of a family member or a serious injury,” said Maj. John Latty, commander of the enforcement bureau of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, who oversees the chaplain program. “(Chaplains) make a world of difference. I always try to find a chaplain to not just help me do it, but to do it for me. They’re so much more experienced and more compassionate in doing it. They know more about it than we do. ... They can counsel them or pray with them and they’re there to assist them in that. We’re much more limited in what we can do.”
Thomas said having Shore on the chaplain team will be especially beneficial for women, particularly in cases of domestic violence or abuse.
Thomas said women victims sometimes “put up a wall” and aren’t able to get help from a man the way they would with another woman.
“Sometimes, I’ve felt like in certain situations a woman could have done a better job,” Thomas said. “As males ministering to females, we have to be very careful. Another female can actually have more contact and talk with them more intimately about situations where we have to be more careful about what we say and what we talk about with them.”
Latty said Shore came highly recommended for the position.
In addition to ministry work at her church, Airline Baptist Church in Gainesville, Shore has spent the past four years working with female inmates at the Hall County Jail through a weekly church service.
Shore said ministering to women specifically is something she personally feels called to do.
“You have to understand where (women) are coming from and what they need spiritually,” Shore said. “You have to try to minister to them that way.”
Ordinarily, chaplains are ordained ministers but Shore was appointed to the position by her pastor and Latty for a special purpose — to help meet the needs of female employees and inmates at the county jail.
Shore said she’s excited about the opportunity to minister to other women and open the door for future female chaplains.
“It’s really a privilege and it’s humbling to be able to do this,” Shore said.
While she’s eager to begin, she’s aware of how difficult her role will be.
Shore got a refresher course from Thomas on the kinds of difficult scenes she may be called to and was encouraged to seek support from her fellow chaplains should she ever want someone to talk to. Chaplains often lean on one another after a difficult task.
“It’s tough a lot of times,” Thomas said. “You see a lot of stuff that you don’t necessarily care about seeing a lot of times. That’s just part of the ministry.”