The Rev. Jim Meacham has witnessed some of Westerville's most tragic events over the past 40 years -- fatal car accidents, murder-suicides and countless death notifications -- and he has provided support to the city's first responders through all of it.
For his 40 years of service as a police chaplain, Meacham was recognized by Westerville City Council Jan. 8.
Meacham founded the police chaplain program in 1972 at the suggestion of one the members of his congregation at Grace Chapel Community Church who was a police officer and a military veteran.
"He said, 'You know pastor, we really need a chaplain. They've never had a chaplain in Westerville for the police department. The chaplain was really important to us in the military,' " Meacham said. "I always had a heart to be a chaplain."
Meacham said he went in to talk to Westerville's sitting police chief about becoming a chaplain, and the chief immediately took to the idea.
"He had a chaplain's badge, and he slid it across the table and said, 'Welcome, chaplain.' I became a chaplain right then in the city of Westerville," Meacham said.
In a softball game with police officers shortly after that, Meacham ended up riding along to a hostage situation -- a man was holding a knife to his estranged wife's throat.
Though not a trained officer, Meacham helped diffuse the situation.
"I ended up going in and doing negotiations. That was before we had negotiators," Meacham said.
That situation taught Meacham how much he had to learn about police work.
"I thought, 'You know, I don't really know anything about police work,' so I asked the chief, 'Could I go to police school?' " Meacham recalled.
He became a reserve officer for the city and served those duties for about 10 years in addition to playing the role of chaplain.
Meacham's role deepened about 15 years ago, when he was prompted to expand the chaplaincy program by two serious instances.
In the first, a man killed his 4-year-old son and then himself. That was followed by a fatal car accident in which several family and friends of the victims showed up the scene.
"The officers were called to respond to a murder-suicide. A man killed his child and killed himself, and the officers were just overcome because they had children themselves," Meacham said.
"(At the accident scene), we had three or four different areas where people were so distraught, and I was the only chaplain.
"It really put an exclamation point on needing more chaplains."
The city now has eight on-call chaplains working with the police and fire departments. All are local pastors who work on a volunteer, on-call basis.
Meacham said the chaplains serve in a variety of capacities.
Meacham keeps an office at police headquarters, where he'll drop in to visit with officers. He also will ride with officers at their request, in addition to going to serious situations and on death notifications.
"They like to just drop in and talk to the chaplain. Just walking around and talking; it just lifts the spirit for them, and it helps me too," Meacham said.
Meacham also works with the Blendon Township and Minerva Park police departments as a chaplain, as well as with the Delaware County Sheriff's Office.
Through the chaplain program, he's worked on a variety of initiatives, such as the Westerville Area Resource Ministry's Helping Hands program for transients and HUGS, a group for spouses of Westerville's police officers.
At 69, Meacham said he volunteers about 600 hours a year in Westerville alone and doesn't plan to slow down, though he acknowledges that the job has its challenges.
"It's a lot of sad stories, but that's what we do," Meacham said. "Being able to lean on those who are around me ... I've got a very supportive wife, and by having a chaplain corps, I can call them and we can lean on each other.
"We do it for our city and for those who serve in our police department."