November 18, 2019

‘A Horse Called Elvis’: How Being a Police Officer Prepared Me for Ministry

At the age of 36, my life took an unexpected turn in the form of a dramatic career change. I’d been accepted into what was then called ‘Strathclyde Police’. This followed nearly 10 years of working in youth ministry.

Temporary Break

Now, I knew even before I joined the police that I would return to full-time ministry at some point. Policing was always going to be temporary for me. What I didn’t realise was just how relevant my time in the police would prove to be for my current ministry. God was at work in my life, shaping me into who He wanted me to become.

Just a couple of weeks into my training, I was told I was being sent to K-Division, which was nicknamed ‘Crazy K’. It earned this nickname for good reason, as I’d soon come to learn. The headquarters for K-Division was in Paisley, which is just outside Glasgow and is Scotland’s biggest town. There are two Police Stations in Paisley; one in the town centre and one—a small sub-station—in a scheme called Ferguslie Park (known locally as ‘Feegie’).

‘Feegie’

Feegie is a small scheme on the outskirts of Paisley and is listed as Scotland’s most deprived area, a position it has held since 2012. Over the years, most of the small police stations that existed in the schemes of Scotland closed, but not Feegie. This place requires its own private police force.

I spent most of my nine years in the police based in Feegie. At times, it was immensely difficult, but I grew to love it. As I’ve reflected on my time policing in Feegie, I realise that God used it to prepare me for the ministry He’s called me to now. As I set out to revitalise a church in one of Glasgow’s roughest schemes, here are three lessons I’m taking with me from my time in the police.

1. Hold Your Nerve

In the police, each day was unpredictable. We needed to be prepared to deal with almost anything. One minute I could be sent to a neighbour-dispute about the height of a hedge, and the next minute to someone being attacked with a samurai sword.

When I first started in Feegie, we weren’t allowed to patrol on our own due to safety concerns. But even with a partner, if we walked onto certain streets and spoke to someone, people would come streaming out of their houses, crowding around us in an attempt to intimidate us. I must admit that at first, it worked, but I learned how to hold my nerve.

However, I really found my niche when walking the streets of the scheme. My favourite thing was to go out in plain clothes (‘non-uniformed’) and seize as many drugs as I could get my hands on. I would regularly bring in a haul of drugs including heroin, crack cocaine, diazepam, and cannabis. I knew every drug user and dealer by name, and it got to the stage that many of them, in order to save time, would simply hand over their drugs when I approached them. It must be said, though, that this didn’t happen overnight. It took a long time of building trust and respect.

In case you didn’t know, there’s a deep mistrust of—even hatred towards—the police in Scotland’s schemes. I found myself in some very hostile environments over the years, at times being heavily outnumbered. Therefore, learning to stay calm and confident was very important. I’ve talked my way out of many potentially dangerous situations. Conflict management was a big part of my job then, and I’m sure it’ll be the same in Maryhill where I am now.

2. Show Respect, Get Respect

Some police think that the uniform deserves respect. This may be true in certain areas, but not in Feegie. Some parents would tell their children not to even talk to us on the street. One of the things I would tell young recruits was that there was a different set of rules when working in the scheme. The main one being: be careful how you speak to people. I’ve seen many incidents go from calm to chaos in a split second simply due to how police officers spoke to someone. In the schemes, if you are cheeky to someone, they won’t complain to your superiors or write a strongly worded letter—they will head butt you in the face, then happily spend the night in a cell.

I found that people from the scheme would show me respect if I showed them respect. The best thing about this was that it was pretty easy to do. After all, as a Christian, I believe that every human being bears God’s image. Learning how to speak to people is arguably one of the most important things I learned in recent years. This is a skill I’ve utilised greatly doing ministry in the schemes.

3. Learning Scheme Culture

Nothing would surprise me in Feegie. Nothing. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a local man rides past you in what looks like a homemade cart, being pulled along the road by a horse called Elvis he keeps in his front garden. True story. Schemes are full of interesting, creative, resourceful people with a strong sense of community. Everyone knows everyone, and news travels fast.

I remember an incident where someone had allegedly made an inappropriate comment to a young girl, and before the police had finished taking a statement from her, there was a 100-strong lynch mob outside the suspect’s front door. People in schemes are generally blunt. They get straight to the point. To put it another way, they don’t know what ‘beating about the bush’ means. This aids the preaching of the gospel, and I now find myself just telling people straight that they need to find forgiveness in Jesus.

I attended Bible college for four years, I was a youth Pastor for 10 years, I have been a deacon and an elder, but Feegie is where God really taught me how to minister in the schemes of Scotland. It was there I saw the best and worst of scheme life.

  • Tommy Millar

    Tommy Millar is leading a church revitalisation in Maryhill, Glasgow. He is married to Lorne and they have two children.

    Read All by Tommy Millar ›

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