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This pastor wears a gold badge

(January 13, 2002)

When trouble strikes, law enforcement officials in Ocean County, N.J., know where James Occhipinti lives.

The law and the Lord: Police Chaplain James Occhipinti offers help to the troubled.

 

Occhipinti has pastored Cedar Run Assembly of God for 31 years. For 23 years, he has also been on call as a volunteer police chaplain sharing Christ in unusual situations. "Ministering to law enforcement people goes way beyond the four walls of my church," he says.

Currently he is the Ocean County, N.J., police chaplain serving the sheriff’s department, county prosecutor’s office and the police academy.

He counsels police officials and their families, performs weddings and funerals for them, calms unruly prisoners, delivers death notices, monitors offenders on probation and speaks at public events.

His specialized ministry didn’t happen accidentally. After visiting a hospitalized church member, he spotted the Cedar Run police chief standing alone near the outdoor parking lot. "I noticed he was grief-stricken," Occhipinti says. He approached the chief, who told him that one of his young officers had just died in the hospital from head injuries sustained in an accident. Occhipinti prayed with the chief and offered spiritual support. Out of that compassionate incident in 1979 he was invited to join the Stafford Township Police Department as a chaplain.

The county Superior Court relies on him to monitor offenders on probation who perform community service. Recently a young man assigned to yard work on the church grounds ended up attending worship services. "He came to the altar and gave his heart to Jesus," Occhipinti says.

Occhipinti’s greatest satisfaction is ministering to veteran police officials. Law enforcement professionals rarely unload hurts to outsiders. Yet they trust Occhipinti.

Sometimes his ministry leaps over state borders. "The Lord has opened doors for us to minister all across America on behalf of my work in law enforcement," he says. While in Florida for a speaking engagement at Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God, he received a phone call from an evangelical police officers’ ministry hotline in New Jersey. A police officer’s wife in Florida struggling with personal problems phoned the hot line pleading for help.

Quickly returning the woman’s call, Occhipinti prayed for her and learned she lived only 10 blocks away. Occhipinti and his wife, Sylvia, invited the woman out for lunch and led her to the Lord that afternoon.

In May, Occhipinti addressed two graduating classes of the county police academy in one day. He prayed and gave brief devotional talks to 700 spectators and officials. As the graduates passed to receive their diplomas, Occhipinti gave them a packet of Christian literature, including copies of articles from the Pentecostal Evangel and HonorBound magazines.

Responding to the World Trade Center disaster, he ministered to police officers and rescue workers at the New York Port Authority command center in New Jersey and at Ground Zero. "It is exciting to see so many Assemblies of God chaplains come forward to make a difference for Jesus."

Occhipinti has received numerous commendations. In July the International Conference of Police Chaplains granted him a master diploma certification for his contribution to law enforcement chaplaincy.

"Being a police chaplain gives me a greater appreciation of God’s love for people in society," he says. "I feel honored because this position puts me in touch with people I normally wouldn’t see as a local pastor."

— Peter K. Johnson

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