The Rev. Alan Blankenfeld has had a second faith calling.
The pastor at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Flandreau is Moody County’s only chaplain, serving law enforcement and first responders who often respond to critical, stress-inducing incidents in the daily jobs. It’s a volunteer position that he started this month.
“They see things on the job or they experience things that they can’t just forget. They have to deal with it,” Blankenfeld says of the officers, fire and ambulance crews who respond to area calls.
Blankenfeld, who was ordained as a pastor in 2016 after having farmed in the county for 33 years, took training in critical incident stress management to be a chaplain to emergency responders. In part, he saw the need because of two sons who are in law enforcement, one in Sioux Falls and one in San Antonio.
“I don’t know what it feels like to put on a badge and go out and do that kind of work, but I know what it feels like to be the father of somebody that does,” he says.
In small, rural areas, chances are emergency personnel may know the people they are called to help in a crisis. “That makes it all the harder for first responders to work through that,” he said. “Most people don’t stop and think the impact it has on the officers and in turn, their families.”
As a pastor, Blankenfeld is not a licensed counselor, but he specifically trained in how to help those who serve in jobs that protect the public. He also has been the pastor at Colman Lutheran and Midway Lutheran.
Law enforcement can benefit from an assigned chaplain and there have been times when it would have been nice to have one available, said Moody County Sheriff Troy Wellman. In the past, some officers may have talked with their own pastors if they needed, but having Blankenfeld in the fold brings other pluses, too, Wellman said. If law enforcement has to deliver a death notice and doesn’t know what church the family belongs to, Blankenfeld can help, for example. He also would be available for critical incident, stress debriefings.
“I think it gives us another tool to be able to utilize to deal with the things we see or hear or deal with on a regular basis,” Wellman said.
That might include deaths from accidents, crimes, suicides or fires; child abuse or child pornography, he said.
Blankenfeld, 58, said he will start riding along with officers to get to know them better so that if a need arises, they will feel more comfortable talking with him. In any incident that calls for a chaplain’s ear, he plans to meet with them within the first 24 hours.