Melissa Walsh

Woods chaplain hits the streets

Grosse Pointe News | April 5th, 2018 | News: Woods chaplain hit the streets


Woods chaplain hits the streets

By Melissa Walsh

Grosse Pointe Woods — After more than 20 years in church ministry, Matthew Swiatek was called to serve beyond the walls of his Grosse Pointe Woods church into the brokenness police witness daily.

“It was a natural thing. It’s really been a good thing, I think,” said the 55-year-old pastor known as “Pastor Matt,” who has led Crosspointe Church as senior pastor 15 years, serving previously as associate pastor at Woodside Church in Farmington Hills eight years.

Engaging with public safety began when Crosspointe Church hosted a night of prayer for law enforcement in fall 2015 at Woods City Hall. That December, then Woods Public Safety Director Bruce Smith approached Swiatek about becoming the department’s chaplain.

Swiatek entered into his new role as “Chaplain Matt” that summer, undergoing the 60-hour Public Service Chaplain Academy certified training program at Macomb Community College’s Macomb Emergency Services Training Center.

“They taught us everything,” Swiatek said, “issues of domestic abuse and human trafficking and post-traumatic stress disorder and death notifications and just a lot of those things that were very helpful to help us understand where we were coming from.”

He explained the services public service chaplains offer officers are presence, support, resources and life experience.

“I’m there to say, ‘How are you guys doing?’” he said.

Swiatek rides with Woods officers two to three times a week. Among the four platoons, which work 12-hour shifts, he tries to ride with everyone.

“I try to ride with a different guy for a couple of hours on a rotating basis so they don’t get sick of me,” he said, adding there are times when the department calls him to help with a specific situation.

“My primary ministry is with the officers first, then the community,” Swiatek said. “But I speak with people all the time. With the guys I’m an extra set of eyes for different things.”

An example of interacting with the public while on the beat is comforting family members as officers administer medical aid to their loved one.

With the officers, Swiatek said, he talks about anything, about life in general.

“And sometimes it goes to a spiritual conversation, but I don’t push,” he said. “My job at church and my job as a chaplain is totally different.

“You have those that are of the Christian faith and those who don’t believe in anything. We ride with those guys and we talk about hunting and family. What I try to do is help those guys — they have the hardest job in the world — I just try to make sure they’re doing OK and they’re not taking that job home to their families.”

In serving people in the community experiencing crisis and brokenness, Swiatek said he discovered some similarities to the officers’ work and his work at the church.

“I try to help people here in the church that are having problems and aren’t able to cope with life. (The officers) are dealing with them when it escalates so bad, where it’s blown up. … They’re there on a really bad day. The thing I’ve learned most is people are people and I do think we live in a world that’s really messed up. I see it in the church world and they have to deal with it out there in the public.”

Swiatek added he admires how the officers apply wisdom and care in treating people with respect.

“They’re there to serve and protect. And they do a good job,” he said, citing a difficult situation he recently witnessed officers having with an individual, during which they demonstrated “great wisdom and great tact to protect the individual that was in trouble. They could have embarrassed him. They didn’t. They did it in a very professional way and a very wise way.

“They do that stuff every day,” he added.

Swiatek finds his role mainly in serving officers, from chatting about sports to carrying a bag of equipment during a run.

“I’m there to help, not tell them what to do. That’s the chief’s job,” he said.

“There have been times when someone has needed spiritual support and Chaplain Matt lends himself for that,” said Woods Director of Public Safety John Kosanke.

However, the role “is not only for religious purposes,” Kosanke added. “I don’t think people here really have an idea of the impact (Swiatek) has by lending his time and support to our personnel.”

Kosanke said Swiatek checks on every member of the department.

“He checks on the chief as well,” Kosanke said.

“The church has given me the freedom, the ability and the time,” Swiatek said, adding he and his wife, Jane, are empty-nesters enjoying more time to serve others.

“We’re in a stage of life that has given me the freedom to do this and the ability to do it. And it really has been a good thing all around,” Swiatek said.

“I think it’s great that he’s able to serve the community,” Jane Swiatek said.

Coincidentally, two and half years ago, as Swiatek was entering his new role as public safety chaplain, a Crosspointe member introduced him to serving incarcerated youth.

“That’s just how the good Lord worked it out,” he said.

He and Jane regularly visit youth detained at Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility.

“It’s absolutely amazing, ’cause when you see these kids, you don’t see them as hardened criminals,” Swiatek said. “They’re not hardened yet. They’re young.”

Of his ministry shift to supporting officers and reaching detained youth, Swiatek said, “I’m in a great spot in life. … I love what I do as chaplain. And with the incarcerated youth, there’s just a lot of good you can do for people if you just take the time to do it.”