Friday, August 14, 2015

Harry the Cop

Race relations are in hard times. Unfortunately, the average cop in America finds the times equally difficult. Having had an Officer in our family for fifteen years, I am not unaware of the pitfalls of police work and the difficulties of working with anything and everything American society throws at them. Working on an unpublished manuscript, I came across a man who brings back some wonderful memories of people by whom I have been blessed. This man just happens to be a good cop.

He has a place among my finest memories that come from a Sunday in the early-1990s. Harry and Bonita worshiped with us from IL. Bonita was an accomplished instrumentalist and by this time, Harry was a veteran Police Officer. On this day, they led us in very meaningful moments of worship by singing a lovely duet as a prelude to my sermon.

Following that service, while we visited among ourselves, I suddenly missed Harry. Simultaneously, I sensed something very special, but very private as my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of this veteran cop quietly kneeling, almost unseen--quite unobtrusively. He was in solitary prayer at the far west end of the Altar Rail his family had helped dedicate earlier in 1989.


I still see this gentle man , returning in his retirement years to the roots of his childhood, reaffirming the precious priorities that anchored his long career in law enforcement. For me: it became a special moment--sacred and defining. I saw a man I highly esteemed, bowed in private encounter listening to the hush of The Almighty.

I felt like an intruder to an intimate conversation between two long-familiar friends, but it provided one of those redefining moments in a panoramic sweep of history experienced by his whole clan.

Harry raised his boys in the Christian faith, as his preacher-father had hoped to do, had he lived. Harry’s granddad first served as a Methodist circuit rider in West Virginia and later his daddy and granddaddy became early pioneers in the Church of God Reformation Movement, sometimes called Saints, even come-outers.

As a longtime friend of the family, I knew some of the commitments Harry and his siblings pursued throughout their lives. I knew that from early childhood in the tightly knit South side neighborhood of Three Rivers, MI--pre-1925 into the early 90’s--God and faith had been a vital part of their daily lives.

When Harry died in February 2003, Kalamazoo Gazette reporter, Dave Person, characterized him as a “man of faith, patriarch of his family and public servant,” a man who “stood tall.” Harry left the Kalamazoo Police Department in 1963 to become Chief of Police in Elk Grove IL. He served seventeen years. Later, headed training programs for the Illinois State Police, and ended his career as police chief in Worth, IL.


When the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, of which Harry was a former president, announced Harry’s death on January 29, 2003, he began with this declaration, “The great Harry Jenkins has passed away.”

I agreed with son Jim when he commented later, “One line I heard a lot when I was growing up was that if I was half the man my dad was I’d be a good man.” Young James was/is a good man. His character and integrity I would trust anywhere. His four stalwart sons had his imprint indelibly stamped upon them. He was a good man who spent his early life as a preacher’s kid, much of his early vocational life as an ordinary cop, and the remainder of it as a leader among his law-enforcement peers. He was a role model for his sons and all who knew him.

But then Harry had a good role model. Harry’s father was at the time of his premature death the bi-vocational pastor of the Three Rivers, MI Church of God, James E. Jenkins. When he died in 1925 he was in a co-pastor relationship with a man who became much better known than he was, a young black man named Ray Jackson--Dr. Raymond S. Jackson. Dr. Jackson was the finest of preacher-orators in early Church of God life.

I have lived my long life as a member of several communities, coast to coast. My many encounters with Police Departments across the country have been varied, professional, and reassuring. Harry Jenkins contributed two law enforcement men from among his talented sons, as well as one of the most prolific Christian authors ever, and a West African missionary translator for Wycliffe.

Harry reminds me of all the fine officers I have encountered around the country. None stands taller than Harry and most are people just like the rest of us, serving with commitment and integrity and faith. They have a tough, thankless job and among the people they have to deal with are people who are self-centered, lawless, and pushing the envelope. That sometimes requires the use of force. They deserve our full support in restoring honesty, integrity, and character back into our culture that suffers badly from a character crunch. We have laws so that we can live compatibly with one another, so let's all work together for the common good and stop harassing the very people who are trying to protect us. 

From Warner’s World, I am

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