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Cop Church meets on the first and third Tuesday nights of each month at Metro Tabernacle. An informal snack dinner begins about 6 p.m., then the service opens with contemporary Christian music before the message is delivered.

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Cop Church: Worship services target problems unique to law enforcement

If you go

What: Cop Church

Where: Metro Tabernacle, 2101 W. Shepherd Road

When: 6:30 p.m. first and third Tuesdays of each month; informal supper at 6 p.m.

Special event: Throwback Tuesday, March 21, an outreach night for retirees and widows

Information: www.copchurch.com

What: Recovery @ Ooltewah

Where: Ooltewah United Methodist Church, 6131 Relocation Way

When: Every Thursday, 5:30 p.m. dinner, 6:15 service, 7:30 sharing groups. Visitors may come for one part or all.

Information: www.oumclive.org/events/recovery-at-ooltewah-2/

What: Recovery at Ringgold

Where: Ringgold United Methodist Church, 7484 Nashville St., Ringgold, Ga.

When: Every Thursday, 5:45 p.m. sack dinner, 6 p.m. service, 7:15 p.m. sharing groups

Information: www.recoveryatringgold.com/when-where

What: Health-care professionals

Where: North Cleveland Church of God, 335 11th St. NE, Cleveland, Tenn.

When: Call church office at 423-476-5513 for information on this new group that ministers to all health-care professionals and their spouses.

With a praise band leading contemporary Christian music — audience swaying in time to the beat and hands raised in affirmation of the lyrics — it could be a worship service anywhere in America. There are prayer requests, an offering, a life-affirming message.

But this congregation is distinguished by a blue line: Everyone inside Metro Tabernacle is either a city or Hamilton County officer, a family member or a retiree of the force.

This is Cop Church, a safe space where officers can share the challenges of their profession with other men and women in blue who listen, don't judge and understand perfectly the emotions involved.

Cop Church was founded two years ago this month by Jonathan Parker, a charismatic 36-year-old who serves as its pastor. Its sermons, its special events, its fellowships are geared specifically to police and their families, but any first responder is welcome and will be able to relate to the message.

"In some professions there may be a hesitancy to reach out, to trust others. When you see people in the darker side of life you come away with cynicism and skepticism. Cops face unique challenges," says Mark Williams, the pastor of North Cleveland Church of God who was the featured speaker at Cop Church's second anniversary last week.

"This is a safe place to come and unpack with people who share the same experiences," he says.

Williams says his church has just launched a worship service that is also targeted to a specific profession: health care.

It's not unusual for churches to offer support groups, reaching into their communities to meet specific needs. Such groups — singles ministries, divorce care, financial management, English as a second language — have been around for more than two decades.

What Williams describes as a fairly new phenomena are small-group meetings evolving into weeknight worship services that target either specific professions or folks dealing with life-encumbering issues such as addiction recovery.

"Ideally, Sunday morning should be, and is, open to anyone and everyone," says Eric Light, director of connectional ministries at Ooltewah United Methodist Church.

He leads Recovery@Ooltewah, a Thursday night worship service at Ooltewah UMC that is open to any type of recovering addict, including alcohol, drugs, sex, food, porn or gambling to name a few.

"I think that this (designated services) is just another way to help folks feel comfortable, to feel welcome, to know that the church is understanding and really wants to be helpful in addressing the needs where they are right now," Light explains.

Cop Church

Chattanooga Police Officer Les Corbin was looking for a church home when he ran into Jonathan Parker and heard about Parker's idea for a Cop Church.

Parker and wife Meredith felt called to found Cop Church to reach the unchurched as well as provide additional support to all officers by addressing challenges only law enforcement face.

Jim DePrimo, a CPD officer with 23 years on the force, has been coming to Cop Church since its beginning while also attending Woodland Park Baptist Church on Sundays.

"Police have unique problems, a unique perspective, a cynicism that's built in from years on the job. In order to overcome a lot of those negative issues we really need a church that reaches out to us. It's a way to overcome the cynicism," he says.

Parker has been uploading sermon podcasts onto the internet and spreading the word about what's happening in Cop Church through social media, and the local church is becoming a model for new start-ups nationwide.

"We have advised at least five other cities who have found out what we are doing and want to replicate the model," says Parker. "I have consulted with retired officers, chaplains and officers who want to start one."

Cop Church meets in Metro Tabernacle on Shepherd Road at 6:30 p.m. the first and third Tuesdays of each month. The night schedule accommodates officers who already have a church home as well as making church available for officers who work Sunday shifts. The service is nondenominational.

"I had started studying the Bible on my own," says Corbin. "Police officers work odd hours, and Tuesday nights worked for me. I like the way Jonathan preaches, and I've been here two years."

Cop Church began with a small group who met in a room at Venue Church, located in a business center on Shallowford Road. Word of mouth drew enough interested families that it outgrew the Venue space in six months and moved to Metro Tabernacle. They now have a base membership of 60 to 70 individuals and families who range in age from retired Signal Mountain firefighter Sam McCormick and his wife, June, to young couples with infants.

"We are self-supporting," says Parker. "We have a very good partnership with Metro. They are wonderful to let us use their facilities at no charge. Steve and Rita Ball, lead pastors of Metro Tab, have a heart for the community and for law enforcement. Steve is a chaplain with the Chattanooga Police Department."

Parker has almost 10 years of service on the Chattanooga Police force: four on patrol and the last 5 1/2 as a resource officer at Brainerd High School. In January, he stepped out on faith and left the CPD to focus on the burgeoning Cop Church, although he says he still does some speaking and training in law enforcement.

At the church, sermons are tailored to meet the needs of law enforcement families. Some weeks members share their stories, the challenges they face on the job or their encounters with faith while on the job.

"I did a series in 2015 on overcoming depression," Parker says. "One particular message had to do with post-traumatic stress, which was well-received. Currently, I've been preaching a series on fear. I may mention some things specific to the profession, but fear is applicable to anyone."

Following the Woodmore Elementary School bus tragedy, a candlelight prayer service was held at Cop Church. Parker says it fell the same night that CPD held a debriefing with officers involved at the wreck site.

"Spouses aren't included in those debriefings, so one of the things we did that night was give each wife the same handout their husbands were given in their debriefings," he says. "It explains what type questions the officers are asked, helps them know what the signs are when their spouse goes through an abnormal situation at work, how to help."

Addiction recovery

"People tend to think of 'recovery' as alcohol and drugs," says Ooltewah United Methodist's Light, "but the recovery umbrella for us includes addictions to food, sex, pornography, gambling, anger management and more. Grief loss and pain is one of our most popular sharing groups; codependency is another."

Recovery@Ooltewah is open to anyone dealing with an addictive issue or compulsive behavior that makes their life unmanageable. It's a partnership between Ooltewah UMC, Apison United Methodist Church and Two Rivers Church, a new church meeting in Ooltewah Elementary School.

A similar service is also held on Thursdays at Ringgold United Methodist Church. The two programs are part of a network of UMC churches hosting these services based on Recovery at Cokesbury, a model founded by Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville.

"When someone is battling an addiction or something that has a grip on their lives, they often become aware of their need for God and the support of others who have walked that same road," says Light.

"While we welcome everyone at our Sunday worship service, this Recovery service often feels more accessible to those with addictions because issues are openly discussed and addressed in a supportive, nonjudgmental way for the addicts and their families," he says.

The evening begins with an optional free meal at 5:30 p.m. followed by the service at 6:15. The service starts off with upbeat songs focusing on hope and inspiration.

"No matter whether your issue is sexual, chemical, food or depression, a lot of these have common sources and roots," Light says. "The message gets down to that common, human element."

A part of each week's service is the recitation of the Serenity Prayer and 12 steps of recovery. There are video testimonies as well as personal experiences told by members of the congregation.

"One young lady shared her anxiety attacks and how being part of a group has given her something to relate to and how that's been meaningful for her," Light recalls.

After the service, the audience breaks up into groups that are topic-specific, led by individuals who have dealt with that issue. Visitors may attend one or all three segments of the evening.

"The share-group facilitators all have had their own recovery experience so that they may speak to the participants with authenticity and experience," Light says. "The lead communicator is in recovery himself, so he speaks biblical passages aimed specifically to those seeking recovery."

However, Light clarifies that these small groups are not Bible studies, but a "supportive, sharing group with others facing the same challenge."

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

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