From Parish Life to Police Force: Priest embarks on new challenge with GMPSaturday 1st July 2023
A diocesan priest is set to take on an exciting new challenge as his ministry takes him from parish life to the thin blue line.
Fr Barry Lomax will be leaving his parish of The Sacred Heart in Westhoughton this summer as he takes up the full-time position of Force Lead Chaplain with Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
For 23 years, Fr Barry has been serving as a volunteer chaplain for GMP, as well as carrying out his work as a parish priest.
However, GMP recently announced it would be recruiting a full-time chaplain for the first time, and Fr Barry felt called to apply.
He said: “Once I was told the job was coming up it was my choice to ask Bishop John if he’d allow me to put my hat in the ring. He agreed it would be a good move for me, especially in light of the 23 years already served with GMP as a volunteer chaplain and my other duties as the National Chaplain to the Catholic Police Guild of England and Wales.
“So, in October 2022 I applied for the newly created full-time post of Force Lead Chaplain and was interviewed March 2023, the day after my 65th birthday, along with several other candidates from all over the country, and I was successfully chosen. The last time I had an interview for a job was 1976 so that was a long-forgotten experience, as usually in our world the bishop just calls you in and tells you where your next appointment will be.”
A New Challenge
Despite his years of experience, this job will present new and exciting challenges for Fr Barry as it calls for a more administrative and strategic approach to build up, recruit for, and oversee the day-to-day running of a chaplaincy department fit for the second largest Police Force in England and Wales – whilst still delivering the all-important pastoral care to all GMP personnel regardless of faith or no faith.
Fr Barry explains this provision is becoming increasingly embedded into Police Culture, with new recruits being introduced to chaplaincy within their very first days.
He said: “I’ll be based at Sedgley Park, our Force Police Training School, where I’m already well known as “Fr. B” who visits and supports the training staff and our latest police student officers as they begin their policing journey.
“On the second day of their induction week, I have the opportunity to talk to our student officers about chaplaincy in general and my role and involvement within the police family.
“It’s all about building trust, continuity, and regularity, so people know that if they want to see a chaplain, they can see Fr Barry on a regular day.”
As policing evolves in an ever-changing world, officers and specials are facing increasing challenges in the line of duty.
Fr Barry said: “We’ve got a lot of officers who are doing a job they have always wanted to do, for them it is a dream fulfilled but sadly when they go out onto the streets, they may find they are not always the person most appreciated.
“They can be abused, spat at, sworn at. It’s a difficult life and they go into it with the best will in the world. They’re doing it from a good place and they’re just trying to do their duty to their best of their ability, without fear or favour.
“There used to be a time if a police officer was talking to you, you’d stand still and do what you were told. Now, they get an iPhone thrust in their face and someone telling them how they know their rights and the law – and the officer just have to stand there and take it.”
A Listening Ear
In addition to the changing times, the general nature of police work and discipline of the institution also places emotional and mental burdens on police personnel, but Fr Barry explains the role of the chaplain can provide some much-needed support.
He said: “The role is no different to that of hospital, prison, and armed forces chaplains: you’re going along and you’re simply listening. It’s about chatting to someone and seeing how they’re getting on.
“Because we’re slightly apart from the organisation but also part of it too, we’re able to see things from a different perspective.
“We also act as a conduit because we take the rank of the person we’re speaking to, so we are able to ask those questions their rank may prohibit them from asking. I can go to their trainers or superiors and ask these questions and then go back to the officer concerned and give the answer.
“But we’re also a confidential and listening ear for officers who don’t have a lot of people they can confide their difficulties and concerns to.
“If they go to something like a sudden death, it’s a very traumatic situation to be in. But officers don’t always show their emotions readily or share their feelings easily, so they just bottle it up.
“Where do you take something like that? You can’t speak to your loved ones because they’re frightened every time you put that uniform on.
“You may be uncomfortable speaking to your colleagues because – although they’re probably witnessed something similar and may be feeling the same – they don’t necessarily show it. The chaplain is there to be the wall to kick the ball against”.
The Call of Duty
As Fr Barry begins his work building up the multi-faith chaplaincy for GMP, he urges parishioners and clergy across the diocese to keep Greater Manchester Police in our prayers.
He said: “People often think that police officers have got it all covered and it’s all fine and dandy but the reality is quite different.
“They are people going into often stressful situations. Hopefully, and especially with our younger officers, should such difficulties arise, we can detect any first signs of stress and possible PTSD before it becomes a major problem for them.”
If you would like to find out more about the work of the chaplaincy or how you can get involved, please contact Fr Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fr Barry said: “It’s about giving something back to those who sacrifice much for us and recognising we’re fortunate to have them. They’re there for us and we should be there for them.”