Pam Neal is the type of person who consoles the broken and soothes raging emotion where others cannot. She truly has a gift – a way with hurting people. This gift has expressed itself through her 5 years of service as a minister at First Baptist, as well as her 19 years as a chaplain with the Knoxville Police Department (KPD) and 19 years of membership with the International Conference of Police Chaplains (ICPC), the last two of which she’s been the organization’s vice president.
Last Thursday, Pam, was voted president-elect of ICPC, whose entire purpose is to equip chaplains to love and encourage law enforcement, so officers may better serve the community. Serving her community in love is something Pam has been doing since starting in ministry 20 years ago. Before then, however, she wasn’t aware of her gift.
A Call to Ministry
“When I was in high school, I wouldn’t speak to anyone unless they spoke to me first,” said Pam. “I was a shy little wallflower afraid of my own shadow. I didn’t always know I cared about loving people, but God took me from that shy person and changed me little-by-little.”
Her call to ministry surfaced when she began volunteering with her church’s youth group. She recognized the difference she could make in their lives by simply being present.
“They needed someone that could love on them,” Pam said. “Somebody that could give them stability. At the time, my church was hiring college students to be their youth ministers, and when they graduated, they were gone. And one day they just said to me, ‘Why don’t you do this?’”
So she did. For the next four years, Pam worked part time with the youth and full time at her government job. At the age of 47, she went full time at her church and began an entirely new career in ministry. Here, she discovered her love for people, and her senior pastor, who was one of the original KPD chaplains, introduced her to chaplaincy. She fell in love with it.
Ministry as a Chaplain
“I was really scared at first,” she said, “of doing or saying the wrong thing, and some of the situations you are called to can be scary. You encounter people who are usually having the worst day of their lives. But the fact that you’re there is all that matters to them. They don’t care what you say or what you do – you’re there. That is so gratifying.”
Chaplains often serve on murder and crime scenes and domestic violence situations. They minister to victims, allowing police to seamlessly do their work. Pam likens the duty of the chaplain to a car speeding into a wall. There is an initial impact, the force of which pushes the car backward where it comes to rest. In a crisis, the initial shock of the impact paralyzes the victim. Pam is able to step in when they start realizing what happened to them.
“I can help them get their bearings,” Pam said, “and take those first steps toward what they’re gonna do. We help them pick up the pieces.”
Each situation is different and calls for different awareness and action on the part of the chaplain. When answering these calls, chaplains often experience a surreal denial of self. Pam recalls this feeling most vividly when she served on the scene of the school bus accident in 2014, where two school buses collided, killing two children, one adult, and injuring 27 others.
“It was December, and I was on the scene for 7 hours,” she said. “It started raining. It was cold. I hadn’t eaten anything. And we, chaplains, were out there all that time supporting those officers because they were afraid when they pulled the bus up, there would be another body under it. When I finally left, all of a sudden I realized I was starving, I was soaking wet, and I was as cold as I could be. I hadn’t even realized it. It was wild. I just feel like, in moments like that, God helps you do what you need to do. You go into a mode when ministering to people.”
The Chaplain's Goal
Pam’s loyalty to her officers in this incident attests to the chaplain’s highest calling – to support law enforcement.
“My primary purpose as a chaplain is not what I do for the community,” said Pam. “It is for the police officers. If they have to work at an accident where children are killed, it’s hard
So for the last 20 years, Pam has served in ministry inside and outside the church. Within the church, she’s worked with youth, senior adults, children, and now administration. Within law enforcement, she has served KPD and ICPC as a chaplain, committee chair, coordinator, and Vice President. She has helped numerous surrounding counties start their own chaplain corps, as well as started corps in Chattanooga and New Orleans.
Running for President-Elect
Somewhere within these years of ministry, Pam discovered her love for people. She left behind the shy girl from her youth and embraced her gifts and abilities to lead and make a difference. This is why she chose to run for president-elect of ICPC. Of course, she wanted to win, but she prepared herself for either outcome.
“I was so at peace about this and I totally left it in God’s hands,” Pam said. “If it is was what God wanted me to do, then it would happen. If I didn’t win, then that’s what God wanted, so that’s what I wanted too.”
She was thrilled, however, to find out she won.
“I was truly in shock! I didn’t expect it,” she said. “I was elated for the opportunity because I really think I can make a difference. And I feel very good about it now because it wasn’t me making it happen. I really believe it was a God thing – that he wants me here.”
Pam will be the president-elect for the next two years, then she will automatically transition to the presidency. She has one main goal for her term as president: “make ICPC stronger and better.” She wants to help chaplains on the field have the best tools to support and encourage police officers and their families, so they might better serve our community. Pam has full confidence that God will enable her to do what he has called her to do.
God Will Equip You For His Will
“I’ve said this ever since I started in youth ministry: If God wants you to do something, he’s gonna give you everything you need to do it,” she said. “So I believe God put me here to be president-elect of ICPC. And if along the way he shows me to do something else, then that’s ok too.”
Throughout the years, Pam has learned a valuable lesson that applies to all of us: “When you let God do what God wants to do, it’s very liberating.”
God wanted Pam to come out of her shell as a young person. God put Pam in every position she’s been in, and he’s equipped her for every part. God changed her little-by-little. He does the same for all of us – the same for you. Sometimes, he even works in spite of us.
“It’s never about how good I can be or what I can do, but it’s about the relationship with God,” said Pam. “God is gonna love me no matter what. I’ve messed up along the way, and the neat thing is, God’s done all this in spite of it. He’s been really, really good. And when I say he’s been good, it’s not because of all the good things he’s done. It’s because of who he is.”
We are thankful to have Pam in our church family, and we look forward to her future with us and at ICPC. May we all learn from her words and remember we are not tethered to what we have done. We are tethered to who God is. May we embrace God changing us little-by-little.