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Charleston-area chaplain gets international award for service

Bill Youngblood

The Rev. Bill Youngblood was awarded July 15 the John A. Price award by the International Conference of Police Chaplains. Provided

Chaplain Bill Youngblood has been on the front lines of some of the Lowcountry's most devastating tragedies.

Sometimes, he speaks words of comfort to first responders and victims. Other times, he says nothing, offering only the power and comfort of his presence.

Either way, Youngblood's approach is the same. He always strives to see the divine nature within every human being, hoping to bring them comfort and peace in their moments of pain.  

"We are all God's children," Youngblood said. "We all bleed."

That focus has shaped the ministry of Youngblood, a longtime Charleston area chaplain who gained worldwide recognition recently for his 20 years of ministry to Lowcountry first responders, survivors and community members.

Youngblood, 78, was awarded July 15 the John A. Price award by the International Conference of Police Chaplains, which helps train chaplains in law enforcement.

The award recognizes up to two chaplains each year who demonstrated exemplary work in the field.

Youngblood is well deserving of the honor, said Rich Robinson, executive director of Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, which serves dozens of public service agencies across the tri-county region.

"When you experience him holding a survivor’s hand with comfort or listening to the lives of first responders, you know we have been in the presence of a deep love with a heart for the hurting and a hope for their healing," Robinson said.

Youngblood was ordained a Baptist minister in 1967 and joined the chaplaincy several decades later. He's found the work to be a calling. He's driven by a passion to offer comfort and hope to all people in need.

Youngblood has stood beside emergency personnel grappling with some of the Charleston region's most historic and devastating incidents, including the 2015 Emanuel AME Church shooting that saw nine church members gunned down and the 2009 Charleston Sofa Super Store fire that claimed the lives of nine firefighters.

The minister recalled the night of the church shooting, when he spoke to an EMS worker on scene. The worker, still within her first week on the job, had helped transport one of the church shooting victims to the hospital. 

Youngblood reassured the worker, reminding her that she had done everything she was trained to do. The chaplain told her not to have any regrets.

Youngblood wasn't the only one offering aid that night.

Reflecting on the event, he said he's still in awe over how first responders, victims' families and community members comforted one another.

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"People came together at such a tragic time," he said. 

Sometimes, Youngblood uses words of comfort to console people in moments of crises. But other times, he's silent.

"Sometimes, you just don’t say anything," he said. "You just have a ministry of presence."

Fully dealing with trauma takes time. But in the moment, people need immediate relief, he said.

“What I try to do is try to stop the emotional bleeding," he said.

Other highlights of the chaplain's ministry include not being injured in a life-threatening accident six years ago.

Youngblood had been in the car with a North Charleston officer. As the officer drove 107 mph responding to an emergency call, the car crashed.

The two occupants walked away.

"By all means, we probably should’ve been killed," Youngblood said.

The minister is also inspiring others to consider chaplain work.

One man on the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy's Survivor Care Team joined the group after being touched by Youngblood's ministry. Youngblood once sat with the man for hours after the man's wife had committed suicide.

"(Youngblood) is inspiring others to help," Robinson said.

Youngblood still serves with CCC, though he's not on the frontlines of emergency events as often.

These days, he spends much time writing and conducting chaplaincy trainings, an attempt to leave a mark on the next generation of faith leaders.

Reach Rickey Dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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