Westwood’s Mary Ferrazzano knows what it’s like to stay up late at night waiting for a son to return when he’s a police officer.
“A lot of dangerous situations arise in law enforcement,” she said. “You must have faith that God will watch over them and keep them safe. That’s the best you can do.”
Ferrazzano, a member of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Glen Rock, gathered with other worshipers on Sunday morning to thank law enforcement, pray for their safety and remember those who lost their lives in the third service Annual Church Law Enforcement Appreciation.
The mother-of-three and grandmother-of-four could not release her son’s department due to police policy, she said.
The event – which was celebrated live and also streamed online to worshipers at home – offered a rare show of honor and appreciation to the police at a time when they are often the target of hostility in all the countries.
Events that make the news, like the killing of George Floyd by a police officer or the handling of Black Lives Matter protests, have often sparked protests against the police. But the church service did not address current events or politics. The purpose was to thank the local police for doing a thankless job with grace and dignity.
The event took place on January 9, which was dedicated in 2015 as National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, a day for citizens to thank officers across the country.
The service began with a piper, followed by a police honor guard who marched down the aisle of the church as the congregation stood in silence.
Among the small crowd that had braved icy roads and COVID fears were police officers dressed in uniforms, flanked by their relatives.
“We want to say thank you. We see you. We honor you. We thank you,” Pastor Jay Unzaga began.
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More than 500 US law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 2021, he said, adding that the pandemic was responsible for the vast majority of deaths.
The pandemic that has sickened and killed thousands of Americans has also exposed their worst behaviors, he said. No one knows this better than the men and women who wear the blue uniform and who risk their lives every day racing towards those in need.
“We want to say thank you. We want to say that you are beloved. We want to give you blessings so that God protects you, your families and the people you serve,” he said.
The event was the brainchild of Linda Scarpa, whose two sons work in law enforcement. When she joined the church several years ago, she suggested the idea of a law enforcement department to Ferrazzano, who immediately liked it and offered to help make it a reality.
“I think the police should be honored,” Scarpa said. “They work so hard and during the height of COVID worked 24/7 for us. I hope other churches realize this. Recognizing our first responders is important.”
Aside from an annual law enforcement mass in Newark, Scarpa said, she hasn’t heard of many religious services honoring living police officers.
Washington Township Police Chief Rich Skinner, who was seated in a front row, applauded the event. “It’s a wonderful idea to recognize law enforcement. We’re loved locally in the small towns of Bergen County. We also feel the national negativity, but in our small towns we also get a lot of support from the from our residents.”
Church member Janet Tenore said she was happy to see new attendees on the pews. “It was beautiful,” she said of the service. “When the honor guard arrived it was so emotional. I hope more churches will start doing this. Our police deserve to be thanked.”
Deena Yellin covers religion for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to his work covering how the spiritual intersects with our daily lives, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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