Hill starts as Fort Dodge Police Department chaplain
He hopes to honor the legacy of the Rev. Al Henderson
As the lead pastor at First Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Dr. Austin Hill, along with the rest of the staff, has made it a priority to invest in the greater Fort Dodge community over the past several years. In fact, part of the job description for the staff now includes spending at least 10% of their time serving their community.
Recently, Hill has found another way he can serve the people of Fort Dodge — as the new chaplain for the Fort Dodge Police Department.
The late Rev. Al Henderson, of St. Paul Lutheran Church, had served as the chaplain for the FDPD, as well as the Fort Dodge Fire Department, Webster County Sheriff’s Office and local Iowa State Patrol post, before he was killed in October 2019.
“I think we were all very shaken and impacted when Rev. Al Henderson was murdered and the church leaders here in town were thinking in response to that, that he was doing so much to serve this community and serve all of the first responders, that I know many of us were thinking is there some way we could maybe follow in his footsteps,” Hill said.
Hill had waited a few months to see if someone else in the pastoral community was going to step in to fill that need with the FDPD, but hadn’t heard anything.
“Police Chief Roger Porter is a member of our church and I thought that I’d reach out to him and see what they’re thinking, see if there’s still a need there,” he said.
The loss of Henderson left a large hole in the community, and Hill hopes to honor that legacy of service through filling the role of the police chaplain.
Hill officially started last week, getting the full introduction to everyone at the police station. As he begins this role, much of what he will be doing is getting to know the officers on the force, spending time with them and doing ride-alongs to see the day-to-day experience of a patrol officer.
“And as I’m getting to know people, it’s also being available so that if there are any emergency calls that are particularly difficult, especially ones that might include death or a death notification with a family, that I am available as needed to assist with that,” Hill said. “That’s a lot of what Pastor Henderson was doing, so when there were those difficult calls, the officers knew they could call him and he could be available to offer any sort of counseling or just be another point of support in those difficult conversations.”
In addition to being a non-anxious presence and source of support for victims and witnesses in tough situations police are called to, Hill is also there to support the officers as well.
“There’s just a lot of tension and things that they’re dealing with on a daily basis,” he said. “So being a chaplain is not only being an additional resource on those calls, but also being a resource for those officers themselves. If they’ve got stuff they need to process, or something they need to talk through, I’m available for them, too.”
Hill also noted the tension and unrest that has spread over the country since the murder of Minneapolis man George Floyd in May hasn’t skipped over Fort Dodge, but he hopes to help build and strengthen the connection between the Police Department and the members of the Fort Dodge community.
“I think people just have high tensions in general so my hope is that this is one opportunity for the local church community to be a witness and to be a bridge-builder for different constituents in our community,” he said.
Hill’s wife, the Rev. Sara Hill, also a pastor at First Presbyterian, began her role as the chaplain for the FDFD earlier this spring.