In a career move that not many make, Richmond Hill Police Department Star Corporal Ray Fowler has given up his fulltime position on the force after seven years in order to become a children’s minister at First Baptist Church in Richmond Hill.
There’s no confusion as far as Fowler is concerned.
He is very clear in his decision and said the occupations have similarities.
"I’m still serving people," said Fowler. "Only the authority has changed – it’s not the law, it’s God. That’s the authority I’ll be answering to in this capacity."
Fowler said his background in law enforcement is a proven asset in his new line of work.
"Being a law enforcement officer helps build a bridge with some of these kids in the ministry – there’s an automatic bond and trust that’s there, and that’s really neat."
The switch comes as no surprise to many of Fowler’s partners at the RHPD who have come to know him and his strong Christian beliefs.
Former RHPD Sgt. Mark Rich even coined the nickname "The Reverend" for him. Fellow officers have even referred to the back seat of his squad car as "the blue pew."
Fowler has retained some of his duties with the RHPD. Chief Billy Reynolds has allowed him to remain on the force on a part-time basis. In addition, Fowler has gained the title of police chaplain.
"You can’t be a part of a team like the RHPD, which is like a family, and just tear away from it," he said. "God asked me to set it down and he allowed me to pick it back up – just in another capacity."
Fowler said he will utilize the part-time income from RHPD to help fund some of his outreach efforts at First Baptist.
"The way I see it, if I work a 12-hour shift on the force, three kids are going to go to camp for free – it’s just that simple," he said.
Fowler has known since 2005 that this is what he wanted to do. Although he loved his job in law enforcement, he said he "felt a calling to surrender to the ministry."
Two weeks after announcing his plans, in May of 2005, Fowler was nearly killed while on duty.
The incident started when Fowler was conversing with a driver whom he later found out had no license and was in possession of narcotics.
"It went south really fast," recalls Fowler. "He tried to run over me with his car. I got tangled up with the car and he tried to scrub me off on a house."
Fowler survived but not without suffering broken ribs, a collapsed arch on his foot, a torn-up shoulder and neurological issues. The person responsible was subsequently caught and is now doing time for the attack.
Two months later, Fowler was faced with yet another life-threatening situation. Fowler was scuffling with a suspect when the person tried to wrestle his gun away from him. Thankfully, fellow officer Lt. David Hooks joined in the struggle to save Fowler. Hooks broke Fowler’s ribs during the struggle.
Fowler said he believes these two incidents may have been Satan’s way of foiling his plans to serve the Lord.
Fowler said it was a sign that he made his announcement when he did.
"If I had surrendered my life to the ministry two weeks after someone had tried to kill me in law enforcement, then people might question my motive and say I was running away from law enforcement."
Fowler is excited about his new job.
"I can’t believe I get paid to do this," he said. "It’s a huge blessing and I’m humbled by it."
He has been involved with First Baptist for many years and, in particular, the Awana program at the church, which his children are also heavily involved in.
"My daughter broke one of the national Awana records for scripture memory verses," he boasted.
Fowler joins the church staff during a period of tremendous growth. Due to increased membership and interest, First Baptist is in the process of putting the finishing touches on the construction of much added space, including many new classrooms and a brand new gymnasium and soccer/football fields.
"You can tell he’s passionate about teaching these kids," said First Baptist Youth Minister Joel Carter. "His passion for God and children is second to none. It’s a huge blessing to have him aboard."
Fowler smiled as he spoke of how he will soon, as part of his new duties, be able to baptize a young man who he has known for a long time and even coached in T-ball at the Richmond Hill rec department.
"I’m starting to realize what my grandmother told me – ‘if you find a job that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’ … I would do all of this for free if I could," said Fowler.
"I feel very similar about my duties as a police officer. Being a cop is not about power or for perhaps a lot of the other reasons that the public may perceive. It’s about making a change, having an impact, and serving the public – so I don’t think my duties have changed all that much. I may look a little bit different, but I’m still serving – just in a different avenue."