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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Night Patrol Padre

Looking Back

Friday January 8

Looking Back: Night Patrol Padre

Published in January 1966, the story of a Church of Scotland minister who was a police chaplain in Denver, Colorado.

“MY chapel has no walls. It needs no building.”

These are the words by which the Rev. Dr. William Mackintosh, young Scottish minister of the Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado, U.S.A., describes his work as Protestant chaplain of the Denver Police Department.

“Police are men on the move,” he adds. “The essential thing is to be where the need is, where the officer is, whether walking the beat or riding a prowl car in the early hours of the morning.”

Dr. Mackintosh has ridden many such cars, not with the specific idea of saving souls, but to become better acquainted with hard reality.

Seeing the situations with which they have to cope, he gets to know the patrolmen and their problems. A call at any time will bring a prowl car to pick him up. He may ride it for two or three hours, or he may ride all night.

He has his own police badge which he wears with pride when on duty. His own car is equipped with a two-way police radio and he is always on call, just as patrolmen are.

Police officers learn early that every call may be an important one. So it was with Dr. Mackintosh as he sat in his study at the church one January evening when the phone rang.

“Mack”, came the district captain’s voice, “Patrolman Paul Major has been shot while capturing a car thief. They are taking him to hospital. Report there.”

No sooner was he on his way than the police radio in his car crackled. “Dr. Mack,” said the dispatcher, “go to Patrolman Major’s home”.

From these words, Mackintosh surmised correctly that the officer had died. No longer did his duty lie with the officer, but with the grief-stricken family.

Stepping into the house, he met the sorrowing wife and saw the two children weeping in an adjoining room.

Our own words are empty at a time like this, he thought. Only the Word of God can bring healing.

He opened his Bible to Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?...”

Chaplain Mack’s voice was full of emotion, and the Bible in his hands trembled. But soon the weeping ceased. He knew this family had the faith that would see it through the valley of the shadow.

Back in his car once more, the chaplain’s thoughts turned to the dead man’s partner, and his other fellow-officers.

He took up the microphone and spoke to them, telling them of Mrs Major’s courage; commending them on their co-operation; offering them strength to carry on their work.

Dr. Mackintosh was born in Illinois, received his master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his D. Phil. at Oxford.

He was ordained in the Church of Scotland in 1958 and came to Denver four years later, after serving churches in London (St. Columba’s), Oxford and Edinburgh (St. Cuthbert’s).

On his desk stands a silver Celtic Cross, mounted on a tiered base of iridescent green Iona marble, a gift to him from friends in the Church of Scotland.

The chaplaincy is an honorary position, one which rates no office and for which no pay is received.

“Yet there are compensating factors” he says. “It is an honour to be invited to offer prayer at the swearing-in of new recruits, and to attend their graduation exercises. To me the organisation is in a sense my second parish.”

“People often ask where my home-town is”, Dr. Mackintosh says with a smile. “I tell them I really haven’t found it yet. But I feel ‘at home’ here in Denver where my work proves that Christian fellowship must be available where the need is. Being a police chaplain is a specialised ministry. Every city and hamlet the world over might well consider such a service. As for Denver, I hope it is here to stay. It is my chapel which has no walls.”

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