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
sheriffs department, county prosecutors office and the police
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 didnt 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.
Occhipintis 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 officers wife in Florida struggling with personal
problems phoned the hot line pleading for help.
Quickly returning the womans 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
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
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 Gods
love for people in society," he says. "I feel honored because this position
puts me in touch with people I normally wouldnt see as a local
Peter K. Johnson