Fort Oglethorpe opts to not renew Southern Cross Ministries contract

Fort Oglethorpe opts to not renew Southern Cross Ministries contract

January 31st, 2012 in Local Regional News

Fort Oglethorpe City Council decided by a 3-2 vote not to renew a contract with Southern Cross Ministries for chaplain services during 2012.

Last year was the first time the city's budget included any direct financial support for chaplains who volunteered to serve the city's fire and police departments.

For years, the city had provided chaplains fuel and cell phone service. For 2011, the council approved by a 3-1 vote a $5,000 contract with Southern Cross Ministries "to provide chaplaincy services, critical incident stress debriefing and counseling services" to all city employees.

That first contract was approved when council members Earl Gray, Charles Sharrock and Johnnie "Red" Smith supported the measure. Eddie Stinnett voted against the expenditure and Louis Hamm recused himself because he volunteers as a chaplain.

But 2012 is not 2011, and while the council agreed that chaplains offer a worthwhile service, they disagreed about the need to pay for a service that is available at no charge.

Smith and Hamm voted to renew the contract; Sharrock, Gray and Stinnett did not.

"You're a benefit," said Smith, whose 28-year career in law enforcement included serving as the city's police chief. "Five thousand dollars is nothing compared to putting your arm around someone when they're in pain," he added.

Neal Brown - volunteer firefighter/EMT for 18 years, full-time pastor of Cedar Hill Baptist Church and a chaplain for Fort Oglthorpe's fire and police departments for 12 years - was present during the meeting to answer questions from the council.

Sharrock inquired about the number of chaplain visits during 2011 and if only fire and police personnel had availed themselves of the service.

"My understanding is we have pastors who have volunteered to provide this service as needed," Sharrock said.

Brown said all the chaplains are certified as having received special training to counsel first responders and victims of crimes, disasters and emergencies.

Gray asked if Southern Cross' chaplains work with other governmental bodies and was given the answer "yes." At that point Stinnett asked if Walker County provides financial support to Southern Cross Ministries.

"Yes, to varying degrees," was Brown's reply.

Even though there is no contractual obligation to do so, Brown said Southern Cross' chaplains will continue their mission - with or without the council's financial support.

"We were content with the system as it had operated," he said. "The council offered the contract and the amount. For us, it is not about the money; it is about the ministry.

"Our response will not change. We will continue to do what we have always done."