PATERSON, NJ - If it wasn’t already clear from the welcome in the weekly program, or made evident through Pastor Donnie Anderson’s welcoming words as guests entered the sanctuary, the meaning behind the special service held earlier this month at Paterson Church of God shone brightly in the opening minutes when the church’s regular worshippers crossed the aisle to shake hands with the first responders present.

Holding their fourth annual First Responders’ Tribute, the congregation welcomed the men and women of the Paterson Police Department and Paterson Fire Department. “A rare breed,” the program read, individuals “always running towards danger when others run from it.

Opening the service with prayer was Sharon Losch who, along with fellow church-goer Patsy Nurse, has completed the Paterson Police Chaplain Program, an opportunity for leaders in the faith-based community to learn more about the job of those wearing the badge. 

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Acknowledging that law enforcement officials, like everyone else, “struggle with problems” related to home life, they also report to work each day prepared to “go places” she doesn’t want to go. “You go to places I don’t want my children to go.”  

The Church of God, and its members, through their faith, Losch said, are prepared to help.

“We’re going to cover you, we’re going to pray for you, we’re going to support you, we’re going to hold you up.”

While many of the dozens of special guests at the Sunday service stood stoically as Shanise Brown belted out songs of praise from the altar one firefighter, Kyle Hughes, could be seen bouncing his head along with the music.

“We all have to believe in something, there are few firefighters who don’t welcome faith or some kind of spirit watching over us, especially when we head towards danger,” Hughes, who also serves as the President of Paterson FMBA Local 2, told TAPinto Paterson after the service. “Pastor Anderson and his congregation were generous to share their faith with us, and we appreciate their willingness to include us in their prayers and fellowship.”

Music and dance abounded throughout the service, with a cadre of flag twirlers taking to the front of the sanctuary at one point, perfectly choreographed, if not through hours of practice, then, perhaps, by the spirit of enthusiasm that filled the church.

Before Pastor Anderson would assume his position firmly behind the pulpit, soon to deliver a powerful sermon deftly weaving the symbolism of the shield of God, as read about throughout the Bible, with the shield, or badge, worn by first responders, he allowed several other special guests, including Paterson City Council President Martiza Davila to speak.

“It’s a beautiful day today,” Davila said, sharing her pride in the opportunity to “stand here and let our first responders know that we support you.” While the Church of God is not where she normally worships the legislative body’s leader added that from wherever she exercises her faith she too is praying over them.

Responsible for watching over the First Ward, one of the city’s most economically challenged, Councilman Michael Jackson shared his gratitude for the work of police officers and firefighters saying that “without you conditions would be much worse,” and went on to thank them for their “long hours and commitment to the community,” as well as the sacrifices of their families.

With a newspaper in hand, Mayor Andre Sayegh would be the last lawmaker to take the microphone. Pointing to a recently published story in which a reporter joined a police patrol during a shift, Sayegh offered that in their role law enforcement officers need to have a “masters in social work on the streets,” to help those battling drug addiction, mental health problems, and more.

Referring to recent accounts of misdoings by a handful of Paterson police officers Sayegh promised that he won’t “let a few bad apples spoil the whole department.”

“Trust has been tested,” Sayegh acknowledged. “We have a plan to restore that trust.”

While the comments of all three elected officials fit with the theme of the service it was the words of Deputy Police Chief Mike Becora that truly resonated.

“With public opinion (of law enforcement) teetering,” Becora said, “it feels good to have the support of this congregation.”

There are many reasons for the crime ills the city is facing, the career law enforcement official said, among them, the desire for illegal drugs, the availability of guns, the lack of employment opportunities, and the disintegrating family unit.

Despite this, he said, “the rule of law must be upheld.” To aid in that, Baycora promised, the Paterson Police Department is going to continue to build on their community policing efforts. “We want our children to learn and also have fun, to forge positive interactions with police officers.”

“We must shake hands without a crisis going on,” Pastor Anderson chimed in, hitting on Bacora’s final point and reiterating the importance of forging relationships with first responders. “We need each other.” 

With the powerful service over and many of the guests enjoying a home cooked meal prepated by church members, 10-year-old Samuel shared his feelings about what had transpired that morning, an opportunity he took, pointing towards the police officers at the next table, to “thank them a bit more.”

“Without supporting them we would turn out horrible in life,” Samuel said innocently unaware of the hyperbole in his words.

Asked where he thinks his city is going the soon to be sixth grader said that Paterson “can be a bit rough, but is a good city.” Even more positively, he added, “it’s getting safer because people are trying to make it better.”

And Samuel, also a proud member of Paterson Church of God,  is willing to do his part, through prayer and action.

“When you help others it comes back,” he said acknowledging he was paraphrasing the Golden Rule, a cornerstone in the Christian faith. 

“I love to help others.”

 

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