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Chaplains fill a necessary niche with sheriff's office

Pastor Larry Szyman of Faith Community Church in Hudson is the initial member of a new Chaplains Service set up at the St. Croix County Sheriff's Department. Two more chaplains have joined the service since its inception in November and two more are expected in the spring.

Larry Szyman is the first member of a fledgling service in the St. Croix County Sheriff's Department.

A pastor at Faith Community Church in Hudson, Szyman has joined the Sheriff's Chaplain Service to aid deputies with the difficult task of dealing with the victims of tragedy. He applies the skills of his profession to comforting the people who suffer from injury and loss.

With a little more than a month on the job, the pastor has been called upon three times for his services in difficult situations.

"In one case it was a death notice to an older man whose wife died in a car accident in Minnesota," Syzman said.

Another time he was called to aid in the tragic accident in Star Prairie where a four-year-old child was fatally injured while his father was plowing snow off the driveway.

The third time was probably the most difficult so far when a 48-year-old woman jumped off the I-94 bridge to her death and left an 11-year-old daughter behind in the car.

"As a pastor, I'm around pain, I'm not intimidated by death," the 54-year-old Syzman said. "Brokenness is part of the human condition. Death is an intruder....but a part of life."

So Syzman uses his 33 years of pastoral experience to comfort people and attempt to fix what's broken.

He said his faith helps him to understand that death isn't the final thing, there is resurrection.

Investigator Chris Drost, a member of the Faith Community congregation, was the first to pursue the effort to develop the service and wrote the initial guidelines, said Sheriff John Shilts.

The primary goal in the policy for the chaplain service is to provide a resource when dealing with accidental deaths, suicides, suicidal subjects, serious accidents, and drug and alcohol abuse.

The chaplain's service is also available for counseling and spiritual guidance for sheriff's personnel and their families.

Among the requirements for a member of the service is to be ordained by a recognized religions body with at least five years of successful ministry experience.

Potential chaplains also have to participate in a service training classes and go through a probation period.

"I went to a three-day training session in Bloomington, Minn., with the Minneapolis Police chaplain," said Szyman. "It was valuable....helped set the standards to understand what the role is and what it is not."

Syzman does a ride-along a month which helps him understand the deputy's job and the deputy understand the chaplain.

"I am impressed with the law enforcement personnel and their training," he said.

Two other chaplains have joined the service since Szyman started. The Rev. Curtis J. Thomassen, pastor at Cornerstone Assembly of God church in New Richmond and Kevin Morris, the senior pastor at the First Baptist Church of New Richmond. Two more are expected to join up in the spring.

Since Szyman stepped down as lead pastor at Faith Community in 2011, he is probably the only one that can get called out on Sunday morning if there is a law enforcement need, he said.

"Law enforcement is a very complex job," Szyman said. "They are called upon to be a social worker in addition to law enforcement duties, preserve the crime scene and deal with the pain of victims.

The sheriff said the Chaplains Service is voluntary and operates at no expense to the county.

"I love the thought that the church has given me permission to do this," said Szyman.

Szyman started out on Chicago's South Side as a long-suffering Cubs and Bears fan then moved to Cloquet, Minn. He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and masters of divinity from Bethel University in St. Paul.

He and his wife of 32 years, Carol, have lived in Hudson for 21 years. They have three grown sons.