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‘A beacon of light’

In crisis, county chaplain deals with the emotional side.

Dave Greaver has soft shoulders, a strong back, good ears, a kind heart and enough faith to move mountains. Though few jobs advertise for those specific attributes, Dave has found the perfect position from which to serve the residents of Todd County and beyond; that of chaplain for the Todd County sheriff’s office. While many may think his direct line to God is the most important part of his job, he serves people on a very human level. In times of crisis, a car crash, a suicide, a shooting, a natural disaster, Dave does whatever he can to ease the situation for everyone involved. That means his mission as a “beacon of light and hope in dark and difficult situations” serves law enforcement officers, emergency workers and families as often as the victims. “An officer (police or deputy) doesn’t want to deal with the emotions of victims when he needs to deal with a situation,” said Dave in his office of the Todd County Sheriff’s office in Long Prairie. Securing an area, conserving evidence and beginning an investigation can be challenging enough without also trying to offer consolation, emotional support and physical security. “The chaplain can deal with emotions, line up support, get family informed, line up counseling, and offer follow-up. An officer doesn’t hav e time to check back with the family.” The position of County Chaplain is relatively new though the need has existed for some time. Many departments have relied on volunteer clergy to be chaplains but with their own busy pastoring schedules, they may not acquire enough experience and training to gain trust. “The Twin Towers event really brought attention to the need,” Dave explained. “Many law enforcement throughout the U.S. realized the importance of the role of the chaplaincy as an emergency response resource,” Dave explained. So many people all over the country needed to process that event. “Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when the planes hit the towers.” In 2005 Dave, who was a member of Twin Cities based Midwest Chaplains, was appointed as a regional director and asked to head up developing the northern area of Minnesota. In 2006, Todd County’s sheriff Dave Kircher, who had observed a career-long need for a county chaplain, wanted to get the program started. Greaver had been a full-time chaplain in Crow Wing County since 1998 and had started a program in Morrison County in 2003. He had been talking with Kircher about a program for Todd County. One day Greaver  came to  the sheriff’s office for a scheduled meeting with the sheriff and was told Kircher was out on an emergency. Greaver called Kircher’s cell phone to see if he should wait. Kircher said, “I need you here, NOW!” remembers Greaver. When Greaver arrived on the scene of an attempted suicide, Kircher introduced him as the new County Chaplain. “I guess I had the job,” Greaver said. On his first crisis experience in Todd County that day, he contacted relatives to determine their wishes since the critically injured man had no care directive and was not related to the other person who shared his home. Besides offering emotional support, Greaver arranged for clean-up so the home’s other occupant could stay in the house. He also followed up in the ensuing days since there was some concern for financial stability. That day was also the beginning of the Central Minnesota Chaplaincy. “I try to help bear the burdens so others can bear the burdens they have to bear,” said Greaver of a job with somewhat fuzzy parameters. “I don’t force myself in praying with people but offer it or call a pastor or friends.” It’s also policy to never leave a family member of a victim alone. His services go as far as preparing a body for immediate on scene viewing if necessary, arranging for death certificates, offering time to talk and pray and even participating in a funeral service. While his assistance at the scene of a critical event eases the tension for those present, his concern is as much for the emergency responders as it is for others at the scene. “One-hundred and thirty-two different chemicals are released in the body of someone experiencing stress and anxiety,” emphasized Greaver. Police, ambulance and fire personnel, health workers and in the case of school shootings or student accidents or suicides, teachers, administrators, staff and community members all experience this chemical dump affecting their health and well being. Greaver noted that in small towns, emergency workers often are related to victims and a chain of events can reveal other connections. “Police have the number one rate of suicide and divorce in the U.S.,” Greaver said, divulging the great need for de-briefing after traumatic events. “If they suppress their emotional responses, push them down and cover them up, they become like a pressure cooker, ready to explode. They often turn to alcohol, inappropriate relationships, or they just end it all. Some try to continue on in compassion fatigue and burn out.” Critical Incident Stress De-briefing follows a seven-step process (Mitchell Model) in which introductions, including the role in the traumatic event, are made (the facts phase); thoughts concerning the event are shared (thoughts phase); reactions to the event are discussed (reactions phase); participants talk about physical and emotional symptoms since the event; the teaching phase explains the physical and emotional responses and emphasizes the need for a good diet, exercise and limitations on alcohol, caffeine and other drugs; and the re-entry phase features a need for balance in work, rest, and play within a return to a normal routine. Greaver participates in this process as a member of the Central Minnesota Crisis Response Team which serves 14 counties. He also leads smaller groups and teaches the techniques to first responders. He is certified to offer training in anger management as well as grief and loss counseling. As a first responder, he also is a hub of information for the wheel spokes of services available within the county. Though under the umbrella of the Todd County Sheriff, the Todd County Chaplaincy is a non-profit 501c3 organization. Todd County provides office space and equipment, a vehicle, a gas card and a stipend which communicates “ownership.” Greaver is responsible for on-going fund raising. Annual events include a golf tournament, spaghetti feed, motorcycle ride and yard sales. Greaver speaks and shares his music ministry at events and organizations and is always open to receiving donations. Several area churches provide regular financial support. He works with the Salvation Army within a voucher system that assists those who need help with utilities or food. He said the greatest need is for financial support, trained mentors and transportation. Greaver admits the lines of responsibility get blurred but he tries hard to help where he’s needed. Verna Toenyan is Todd County’s Coordinator on Aging. “It’s overwhelming… There are so many needs.” She remembers an emotionally unstable older individual who was discharged from a hospital. “He didn’t have food. Was suicidal. Dave followed up and arranged bundled services.” But the problems don’t go away. “Dave’s work relieves law enforcement to do their job and do it better. This partnership with the county is a strong link to connect services,” said Toenyan who knows the need is great and appreciates Greaver’s presence in the county. Greaver said arranging for follow-up services is the most challenging part of his job. “Finding the people to do it—there’s a need but who is doing it. It’s never-ending.” Some relief is coming in the form of other counties adding chaplaincies and there are more people interested in becoming full-time county chaplains. Greaver was asked to create a clergy volunteer chaplaincy program in Crow Wing County in 1997. A graduate of the St. Paul Bible College (now Crown College) in 1990, he had served (since 1983) as a pastor/ volunteer  hospital chaplain in Arkansas and Missouri before coming to Minnesota. As pastor of the Brainerd Alliance Church, he volunteered at the jail and then developed the Lakes Area Chaplaincy under an Arkansas friend’s non-profit Cross and Shield Ministries. When New York’s Twin Towers went down, he was working three jobs and was on call 24/7. He raised financial support for the program, put in 20 hours a week as a Pathways counselor and 20 more as an associate pastor. Those were busy days and in 2003 the Morrison County Chaplaincy was formed. “Greg Valentine, the Morrison County chaplain, was told by the sheriff they’d try it for 90 days. Very quickly, they couldn’t do without it,” said Greaver. Verna Toenyan sees the partnership between Morrison and Todd Counties Chaplaincies as a very important pairing. “They often work together,” she said. Though an informal arrangement, Greaver and Valentine give each other emotional support in what can be a very difficult job. Greaver cites “being invited into trusting support situations and seeing people finding their way back to emotional stability” as the most rewarding part of being a county chaplain. He knows that his own on-going debriefing, and that of his fellow chaplains, is essential for him to continue to be effective in helping others. To that end, he gets up at 4:45 each morning and meets with the Crow Wing County Chaplain on Mondays; lifts weights, uses the hot tub and steam room, has breakfast and prays with Greg Valentine on Tuesdays and Thursdays; meets with a pastors’ group on Wednesdays; spends time a couple of mornings a week with his son-in-law who is a Crow Wing County deputy; and visits a Christian counselor friend monthly. He also values his wife of nearly 40 years, Pearl, their five children and growing number of grandchildren. With gray streaking his newly grown beard, Dave Greaver is feeling the weight of his long days and accumulating years. But he plans to continue bearing burdens for others. “I’ll continue to do it as long as God gives me the strength.” For information on the chaplaincy, visit or contact Greaver at

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