New Stafford Police Chaplain Committed to Serve CommunityTo Intervene ‘Where People Are Hurting’
When Nathan Didlake completed graduate school in 2011, he had no idea what the next five years would be like. Nonetheless, he and his new bride, Rachel, set sail into the deep waters of life with the hope that God would lead them where they were called to be.
They ended up in Manahawkin, and Nathan specifically at Manahawkin Baptist Church as the new youth director. Rachel was only months from delivering the couple’s first child, but they settled in, settled down and seemed ready for whatever came their way.
While they temporarily lived on Long Beach Island, Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the Jersey Shore. Ten months later, on Aug. 13, 2013, a low-grade tornado ripped off part of MBC’s building while Nathan was inside. During the years he was supposed to be overseeing youth ministry, MBC went through two senior pastors and two interim pastors, which increased his workload within the church while he was the only other full-time staffer. Meanwhile, he also had taken on the role of worship leader following the departure of the previous one.
And then, out of nowhere, he was asked to consider taking over as senior pastor. He wasn’t even 30 years old yet.
“A lot has happened in five years, and it’s crazy. I’m still decompressing it all,” said Didlake, who recently took on an additional role as chaplain with the Stafford Township Police Department. “I went into this part of my life and asked God to help me become the person I was called to be. But a lot of times, God gives you things that actually prepare you to be what you’re called to be, and a lot of those things are not what you expected.
“A lot of things have been chaotic during the past five years, but I’m grateful that I can see how the Lord has used these things to help me grow.”
Appointed the senior pastor at Manahawkin Baptist Church in April 2015, Didlake sees not only the benefits he’s reaped from years of tumultuous and sometimes downright scary times, but also how he now can turn it around to help the police department and the community in which his family now lives.
During his candidacy for senior pastor at MBC, he was invited to take part in some chaplain work at Southern Ocean Medical Center. He enjoyed and learned from it so much, he sought out former Stafford Police Chief Joe Giberson to inquire about the possibility of helping his department in a similar manner. Didlake learned the department was utilizing the services of two chaplains, but they each lived quite a distance from Stafford.
“Here I was, as the pastor here at MBC, and a mile down the road was an opportunity for me to serve our local police department,” he said. “Not everyone is called to do this kind of ministry, but I was, and so I pursued it.”
With full support from Rachel and his MBC family, Didlake went through the training to become a chaplain. Roughly a year later, he was sworn in during a private ceremony with Police Chief Thomas Dellane and Chaplain Jim Davis, who Didlake said was “an incredible inspiration to me, and such an awesome, humble individual.”
Now, besides helping to raise three children as a loving husband who doesn’t allow ministry work to rule over his family, and continuing to lead Manahawkin Baptist Church as senior pastor, Didlake believes he’s ready to help care for the community in a whole new way.
“The more I do this, the more I’m mind-blown that I get to do it,” he said. “It would be easy for me, as pastor of MBC, to come to the church and have people come to me so I can help them. But outside these walls, there’s an entire community filled with all kinds of issues and people with all kinds of needs. As the pastor, I care for people here at MBC, but as chaplain I get to go out and care for people in the community. That’s perfect for me.”
Still, he and his wife had to come to grips with one thing: the chance something bad might happen.
“The one thing that gave us pause was the fact that, as part of being a chaplain, I’ll be doing ride-alongs, and with that comes the chance that I may be part of a scene in which I could be severely injured or killed,” he explained. “We had to come to terms with that, the fact there could be danger at some point and the cost could be great. This is no desk job. This is front-lines stuff.”
Of course, Didlake hasn’t been immune to “front-lines stuff.” As a youth pastor, he had to deal with situations in which authorities had to be called regarding physical or sexual abuse allegations, teens struggling with personal and family issues, and young women with eating disorders.
“It wasn’t long after I arrived at MBC that I was making hospital visits and dealing with social workers on how to care for our kids and their families,” he said. “These were critical situations, and God used them to prepare me for what I was called to as chaplain.”
In his new role, he first will be able to serve the police department staff – namely, the officers, plus their families – and in a secondary way, those whom the police department serves within the community. But despite the inevitable problems or potential trauma that he must help others get through, Didlake said this is exactly what he should be doing.
“Because I love this place,” he said. “I love Stafford Township and the people here. I love that my kids wake up every day here. I love that I daily benefit from this area. And I love that I have the chance to give to this community what God has given me: to really be where people are hurting.
“I’m committed to caring for the community, and that’s what I have to offer. I’m excited for the opportunity to serve them.”