MOUNT PLEASANT — Police Chief Harry Sewell said he always felt a desire to comfort victims of crime and tragedy, even before he announced his decision to retire from the police office and become a chaplain.
“It’s not a job; it’s a calling,” he said today. “It’s bringing light into dark places, not only to victims but to first responders. They see things that shouldn’t be seen.”
Sewell will join the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy at the end of the year. He confirmed his decision at a news conference at Waterfront Park.
Sewell said he always has been very active in First United Methodist Church on the Isle of Palms, including giving the Sunday morning message at times, working with the youth and playing in the praise band.
“Over the years my walk with God has gotten closer and closer,” he said in an interview after the news conference. “I started getting a strong tug to go into the ministry, but I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I’ve thought about the chaplains for a long time. That’s the part of the work I enjoy the most, reaching out to people in their hard times and just spreading love.”
Cops, firefighters and other emergency workers can’t help but absorb the emotions of crimes and tragedies, he said.
“A lot of people don’t get to know the man or woman behind the uniform,” he said. “Sometimes they seem robotic in their jobs when they’re responding to a crisis. Underneath that are feelings and love. They usually take that home. That’s where the chaplains come in, to make sense out of all that and understand their feelings.”
Senior Chaplain Rob Dewey said he knew Sewell was the man for the job when Chaplain Eddie Driggers was tapped to become North Charleston police chief. Driggers will succeed Chief Jon Zumalt when he retires in January.
“I woke up at 2 a.m. and said, ‘Harry Sewell,’” Dewey said.
When Dewey called Sewell about the idea, Sewell told him he had been thinking about becoming a chaplain for several years.
North Charleston Fire Chief Greg Bulanow, board president of the chaplaincy, praised Sewell and gave him a big hug.
“When people need help, they call first responders,” Bulanow said. “But when first responders need help, they call the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy. This announcement today ensures that … someone will be there to respond to them and provide compassionate ministry in their time of need.”
Mayor Billy Swails also praised Sewell and gave him a hug.
“We thank you for everything you’ve done,” Swails said. You’ve had a calling, and you will be excellent at it. We appreciate you very much and we love you.”
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.