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By Robert Murray

My best friend was elected sheriff and then talked me into being his chaplain starting on April Fool’s Day in 1993. Was this an omen?

Most departments have two chaplains – one for the jail and one for employees and deputies. Somehow I became both. I began with 900 inmates, 24 weekly services, and 450 employees. By 2008 we had 2,200 inmates, 43 weekly services, and 850 employees. I supervised around 80 volunteers, coordinated services, and approved religious diets and clergy visits.

In providing pastoral ministry, I would order flowers, visit employees at home and in the workplace, minister to employees and family members in the hospital, and attend funerals and socials. Our patrol would call to provide death notifications and ministry for families affected by various accidents, crimes, or suicides. On one occasion I assisted in a funeral with over 3,000 in attendance for a deputy killed in the line of duty. The overwhelming magnitude of these activities led me to start the Sheriff’s Chaplain Corps. This consisted of training ten local pastors in police work, who then rode with deputies, forming relationships and conducting informal counseling. This opened many opportunities for employees to talk about their personal, professional, spiritual, and psychological needs.

As a result, several doors of ministry opened including providing pastoral care at three hospitals, the Salvation Army, and an Inter-faith ministry and hosting statewide chaplains training events. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be providing ministry like this or helping change so many lives.

While providing prison ministry, I met Duke, a man who had attended chapel and requested a Bible. Duke read through the entire Bible in a short period of time. Several years after his release, Duke called me to come get some Bibles. I was pleasantly surprised when I met with him. He had been attending church regularly, started a used book business, married, and now had a daughter.

Duke shared that he had gotten saved in jail but told no one. After his release, he bought pallets of donated books from charities, sorted them, and sold them to bookstores. He had even hired three employees who were former inmates. Yet instead of selling the Bibles he collected, he gave them to me – about 300 to 500 every three months until his death. His life mattered as all lives matter in God’s Kingdom, and he learned to pay it forward.

I encourage every Open Bible church to reach out to all law enforcement and correction officers. They have extremely stressful jobs with shift work that rotates constantly. As a result, they don’t have many opportunities to attend church any given Sunday. It helps to invite them to breakfasts, retreats, and special events. In 2017 our Chaplain Corps hosted a free Employees Appreciation Dinner for 400 with a donated meal from Sonny’s Barbeque.

For me, 25 years later April Fool’s Day has turned into April flowers. What may have seemed like a joke at first has blossomed into a fruitful ministry.

Robert Murray, a credentialed Open Bible minister, recently retired and received an award for serving 25 years as a chaplain for the Marion County Sherriff’s Department in Ocala, Florida.

Robert Murray, a credentialed Open Bible minister, recently retired and received an award for serving 25 years as a chaplain for the Marion County Sherriff’s Department in Ocala, Florida.

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Since 1920, Message of the Open Bible has been a medium to celebrate all the wonderful things God is doing through His people in Open Bible Churches – from personal testimonies, to news-related stories, to inspirational articles by quality authors.