Hendricks County Chaplains Offer Hope in Dark Times
Writer: Jamie Hergott
Photographer / Darren Boston
Rick Adkins, a chaplain for the Hendricks County Sheriff’s office, has seen some of the darkest moments in Hendricks County, often while the rest of the world is sleeping.
“Our primary purpose is to provide spiritual and emotional support for families during a time of crisis,” Adkins says. “Death notification is one of our primary purposes.”
Adkins is one of five chaplains, most of them local pastors, who serve the Sheriff’s office. Each week, a different chaplain is on call for duties such as death notifications to families, assisting officers in crisis situations, counseling officers or otherwise providing pastoral care to inmates and their families.
The chaplaincy program typically varies in exposure according to the sheriff who is serving.
“I know Sheriff Brett Clark, being a man of faith himself, felt the program was necessary,” Adkins says. “He is very supportive of our branch. We have a great deal of respect for him, and we consider ourselves to be an arm of the Sheriff’s Department.”
All the chaplains meet once a month, where they will usually see Sheriff Clark at least pop his head in. Terry Danford, who started the program, attends when he can, though now he is a traveling evangelist and directs the program from the road.
Each chaplain has one week on call each month. The rotating schedule is provided to dispatch so that they know who to call when officers have a need.
Each call looks different, according to Adkins. When dispatch calls him, they share information about what happened, the name of the officer on the scene and the location. Adkins then heads that direction, no matter what time of day or night it is. Usually, when he pulls up, the officers will lead him directly to the family in need. Sometimes it’s at a residence, sometimes it’s at the scene of an accident where he can minister to the family, and sometimes he is going to share with family, or even an inmate, that someone they love has passed away.
“You never know how people will react to the news,” Adkins says. “Some faint in anger, some storm out of the house, some throw things, some knew it was bound to happen at some point. The bigger picture is we are trying to walk them through the most difficult time of their lives.”
While protocol is the same for each chaplain, each injects his own personality into the job. Adkins tries to keep in mind how he would want someone to come alongside him in the same situation. He has always had a heart for people and currently serves as Pastor at New Winchester Christian Church just west of Danville. He also drives a local school bus and has found himself needing to minister to students on his route when his job as a chaplain overlaps. He always tries to follow up with families, even though it’s not necessary.
“I have a long history of pastors and preachers in my family,” Adkins says. “If I can find a way to serve someone during a very dark time, it’s very rewarding. I take no pleasure in it, but that family needs someone, and we are prepared to help.”
Aside from simply being available, Adkins tries to find out if families have a church home so he can contact their pastor. If they don’t, he will stay for hours until he feels they are stable enough, and the situation is calm enough to leave them.
It turns out, leaving is the hardest part of the job for Adkins.
“You’ve just rocked their world in a negative way,” Adkins says. “I have turned it upside down and then I’m going to leave. I don’t know what’s going to happen or who will guide them from that point forward.”
Adkins has seen some dark moments. He has ministered at a school where a student committed suicide. He has walked families through deaths by drug overdoses and car accidents. He has walked parents through the death of a child, and children through the death of a parent or grandparent.
“We don’t proselyte people,” Adkins says. “But our faith background does give us the experience to do what we do. The biggest question is always why. I try to provide some answers if I can. The greatest reward is to just know that you’ve actually been able to provide some support to people through a difficult time.”
Sheriff Brett Clark, elected in 2014, considers the chaplaincy program a valuable part of what the Sheriff’s Department provides to both the public and to inmates.
“These guys come in, and we can give them hope and an alternative,” Clark says. “It’s easy to find religion when you’re in jail.”
Clark says that the chaplains do more than people might think. In addition to death notifications, they also are available for officers or inmates who need someone to talk to.
“These guys who come into jail have families as well,” Clark says. “Just because they are here doesn’t mean life outside doesn’t continue.”
Clark cares deeply not just about the community but for each person who comes into the jail, remembering each one has a story and family, regardless of how they landed there.
“We give these guys a faith outlet,” Clark says. “We don’t shove it on them, but it may be the light they need to get back on track. The chaplains do a great service. They give these men and women hope.”