April 23, 2007

Lester Prairie native helps strangers in crises

New chaplaincy program set up in McLeod Co. to help during emergencies

By Chelsey Rosetter
Staff Intern

When there is an accident or disaster, law enforcement must get involved – and for McLeod County, this now includes the help of a core group of pastors from a new chaplaincy program.

Lester Prairie Rev. Randall Tonn helped set up the program in McLeod County, assembling eight other pastors who were willing to tend to strangers in emergency situations.

The program idea started when Tonn got a phone call from newly-elected Sheriff Scott Rehmann, just days after Rehmann was sworn in.

Rehmann asked Tonn about forming a chaplaincy program, which is a relatively new concept in the area, and rare in the state.

Through conversations between Rehmann and Tonn over the next couple of weeks, the chaplaincy corps was created.

As an existing senior chaplain, Tonn had the opportunity to hand-pick the other eight chaplains, trying to obtain representation from each faith denomination of McLeod County.

Pastor Gerald Boldt of St. John’s in Winsted is a pastor in the chaplaincy program.

For Tonn, the program required a transition from pastoral to chaplaincy work, because pastoral work usually deals with familiar people in familiar surroundings. “Whereas in the chaplaincy, more than likely you will deal with someone who is a complete stranger,” Tonn said.

Having the ability to deal with strangers, especially those involved in crisis situations, is what the chaplaincy is all about.

“What we are trying to get across to the general public and also to our own chaplains is that what we are involved in is what I like to call short-term crisis ministry.” is called to minister to those involved, but as soon as possible moves them to their own spiritual advisor if they have one.

“We take the position that we are coming from a Christian perspective. We will serve anyone, any family, any person that is in need, even those who may not be Christian.”

Tonn believes that by using the term “chaplain,” it tends to move away from specifying denominations.

In many cases, Tonn has responded to families of all different faiths, not paying any attention to their affiliations. “It was simply about being chaplain.”

In a society that is increasingly moving away from its religious roots, Tonn among others have found that people who become involved in some kind of crisis situation don’t have much to hold on to.

The corps is trying to change this and help everyone see that the chaplain can be of service.

Tonn is very optimistic about the future of the corps, however he does realize that it will take some time for the public and police departments to become familiar with the program.

“I feel very upbeat about it. At the same time I also recognize that we are about changing a lot of culture.

“Traditionally, calling a chaplain had been a big deal, and now we are saying, ‘Let’s move from it being a big deal to where it is more routine.’

“Instead of asking what are the reasons why we should call a chaplain, we ask the question of what are the reasons why we shouldn’t call.”

Tonn believes the program will grow as they make it known to the deputies, police departments, and cities.

With this growth, Tonn hopes that there will be more discussion between the police chiefs and sheriff’s departments in order to try to set up some standards for what situations automatically call for a chaplain and other factors that could be adopted across the counties.

Tonn has two future goals for the program. One is to learn how to serve the public effectively and efficiently.

“We really want to focus on the deputies and police officers. These are the people that are constantly facing humanity at its worst. They have tremendously stressful jobs and we want to be as helpful to them as we can.”

The other goal is moving the program to be more proactive rather than reactive.

“In the sense of what it is that we as chaplains can do for the people even before there is a crisis.”

Tonn does not know what this could entail for the future. “One of these days, someone is going to pick up the phone and say ‘hey pastor Tonn, have you thought about... And it is what that person suggests that will bring the program closer to pro activity,” he said.

Now that the chaplains corps. is in place, the most important thing is trying to warm up people to the idea of giving the chaplains a call.

“And to change that kind of culture is always slow,” he added.

Many travels during Tonn’s lifetime of service

Tonn has served close to 47 years as a pastor, living in various states and traveling often.

He has since retired from pastoral work, and return to his hometown area in rural Minnesota.

Over the course of his service, Tonn spent much of his career pursuing avenues outside of the pastoral or congregational ministry that he had originally started out for.

Becoming involved in a variety of areas gave him valuable experience in fields such as public relations, social services, developing, and fund-raising.

Along with this expertise, came many titles, including chief executive officer, pastor, vice president of development, reverend, and most recently chaplain.

Tonn studied for the ministry at Concordia College in St. Paul and then at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

While in the seminary, Tonn’s career goal was to become a military chaplain.

After finishing his time in the seminary, he attended the Army Chaplain School, finishing the four-month training course in New York; however Tonn never had the opportunity to utilize this training until now.

Rev. Tonn has spent the three-and-a-half years since his retirement serving as the senior vacancy pastor at First Lutheran Church in Glencoe and the past two-and-a-half years as a volunteer chaplain for the McLeod County Sheriff’s Department.

The McLeod County chaplaincy program

A new program has been started in McLeod County that gives quick access by law enforcement to a group of pastors in times of emergencies. The following are members of the McLeod County chaplaincy program:

• Gerald Boldt, St. John Lutheran Church in Winsted

• Gerhard Bode, Peace Lutheran Church in Hutchinson

• Penny Entringer, First Congregation Church, United Church of Christ in Glencoe

• Robert Mraz, Holy Family Catholic Church in Silver Lake

• Russell Allan Reed, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Brownton

• Kristi Schiroo, Christ Lutheran Church in Glencoe

• Thomas Starkjohn, Harvest Community Church in Winsted

• Brigit Stevens, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Plato

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