‘Called to heal a broken world’

Published 1:00 pm Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Rev. John Mitchem’s typical week includes 50 to 55 hours of work at United Methodist Church.

In addition to his duties at the church — including leading weekly services — Mitchem is a volunteer chaplain with the Albert Lea Police Department and Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office, assisting officers after stressful situations.

Mitchem, senior pastor at United Methodist Church, was appointed by the Methodist Church to serve in Albert Lea in July 2015. Two months after he began at the church, Mitchem became chaplain.

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“We as pastors try to find a way that we can make a powerful difference in our community,” he said. “We believe we are called to heal our neighbor and help heal a broken world.”

At the church, Mitchem leads worship services at 9 and 10:45 a.m. Sundays at United Methodist. He also officiates wedding, funeral and baptism services and is responsible for implementing the church’s mission.

As a chaplain who responds to about 30 incidents a year, Mitchem gives death notices to families of the deceased.

“You never want me and an officer to arrive when you have called, because we are there to give a death notification, that somebody that you loved and (cared for) has passed away,” Mitchem said. “I give news on the worst day of someone’s life.”

To Mitchem, no two situations he deals with as chaplain are alike. He stressed the importance of verifying the correct house and telling people who knew the victim in a way that is direct and clear while being empathetic and caring.

United Methodist Church is at 702 U.S. Highway 69. — Sam Wilmes/Albert Lea Tribune

He said the incidents he responds to with officers range from deaths from medical emergencies to suicides.

“Regardless if you have a faith background or not, a chaplain is there to serve the families in those issues,” Mitchem said. “I’m kind of the expert in how that whole process works — how you call the funeral home, what is the coroner going to ask, what do we need for the coroner?”

A Columbus, Ohio, native, Mitchem, 54, served at two churches in Colorado before moving to Hastings for eight years. He then relocated to Sleepy Eye and then Albert Lea.

“I serve at the pleasure of the bishop, which means I can be moved at the pleasure of the bishop,” he said.

To Mitchem, his calling is to help people.

“We are called to help heal our neighbors,” he said.

Mitchem is helping fulfill his mission. The church is involved with the backpack program at Southwest Middle School and supports Semcac and the Salvation Army.

Mitchem described how Jesus Christ has motivated him.

“The grace that God has shown me for the failures that I have done in my life, that he still calls me to love my brothers and sisters,” he said.

“I want them to say that God loves and cares for them. I believe that God loves and cares for people in this world.”

Mitchem attended college at Ohio State University and seminary school in Kansas City, Missouri.

He said his favorite part of being a pastor is “letting people know that they are loved and cared for.”

Albert Lea Police Department Deputy Chief Darren Hanson noted Mitchem is the first chaplain he remembers, adding Mitchem helps families make arrangements after fires and other traumatic situations and is receptive to requests for his services at all times.

“I really couldn’t ask any more than what John has provided,” Hanson said.

By the Numbers

2015 – Year the Rev. John Mitchem began at United Methodist Church

165 – Average weekly attendance at church services

30 – Estimated calls Mitchem responds to as a chaplain every year

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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