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LA Humanitarians: Making a Difference — World Over
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Freedom Magazine, published by the Church of Scientology


Citizen’s Reply to Sept. 11
Become A Police Chaplain

For a Scientology Volunteer Minister it’s the answer to the 9/11 wake-up call.

Santa Ana Volunteer Minister Gayle Thorsen: wife, mother — and chaplain to Laguna Beach police officers.

Her day begins like that of any working wife and mother — affections for husband Don, fussings over daughters Katrina and Natasha, and a fast dash out the door. Then she’s off to her work day in the service of her city in a police squad car, riding patrol as a police chaplain with a Laguna Beach Police Department officer.

As she has done more than a few times in the past year, Gayle Thorsen reflects — smiling to herself — on the irony of her life today as compared to her past fears and the event that had brought them on.

She remembers vividly that terrifying New Year’s Eve more than a decade ago. Just as that new year struck, a stray celebratory bullet felled Thorsen, landing her in the hospital, the slug still lodged in her abdomen.

Initially, her hopes rode on the prospects of surgery to remove the bullet and end the pain. Instead she was told it was safer to leave the bullet where it was. The physical agony that went on for months finally abated, but she found the emotional anguish did not; Thorsen now found herself almost paralyzed by a fear of what catastrophe might befall her next, compounded by a terror of guns and bullets. The compulsion to avoid potentially dangerous situations became obsessive, she recalls.

“I had to answer that call”

But that has all changed now.

Today, Thorsen is the mother of daughters aged 11 and 14, wife of a marketing representative and a Volunteer Minister of the Church of Scientology.

And she is one of hundreds of volunteer chaplains across the nation whose job is to help law enforcement personnel deal with the spiritual and emotional upheaval that is often part of the police beat. It is a humanitarian calling that has more than its fill of dangers. Thorsen was warned by instructors early in her training that a chaplain can be at risk — some, they said, have been shot in the line of duty. But by now, she had risen above those fearful years, and she accepted the danger as part of what she felt duty-motivated to do — to help.

September 11, 2001, defined a no-turning-back moment, says Thorsen. On that day, her church issued a “wake-up call” to all Scientologists to do more to help others and create a better world. “I knew I had to answer that call for myself and my children — and for our police force. They do so much to keep us safe that most people never hear about,” she says.

“Answering the call,” for Thorsen, started with the Volunteer Minister training program at the Scientology Church in Tustin, where she and her daughters are active members.

On this course, one learns of the 19 different means by which a Volunteer Minister can help others in all aspects of life and living — to assist them through spiritual travail, to overcome communication breakdowns, develop study skills, aid them in coming off drugs and alcohol, build relationships, resolve conflicts, and more.

Next she applied for and was accepted in the Laguna Beach PD’s chaplain training program. By September 2002, she was in training with 19 other civilians in “Citizens’ Academy, Class #7,” of which she was elected president. She was sworn in on January 6, 2003.

“Conventional wisdom says that just showing up and listening is sometimes the best help you can give,” says Thorsen. And she does her fair share and more of “just listening” to the men and women who need to download their emotions, she says.

Cut to the Chase

But Thorsen lends more than a listening ear, especially in times of physical or emotional trauma. Described by Thorsen as “spiritual first aid”, she is also trained to administer “assists” — the same procedures used by the 800 Scientologists who operated at Ground Zero to help fire fighters and rescue workers weather the tragic events of 9/11.

When a young police officer was shot during an attempted robbery last fall, Thorsen was called in to help. With other chaplains ministering to the wounded officer — whose bullet-proof vest stopped the bullet but not the pain of impact and the trauma — and his family at the hospital, Thorsen went directly to the police station to comfort the wounded man’s fellow officers. They were suffering from a different but no less serious trauma; these were the backup officers who, in defending themselves at the scene of the crime, opened fire on the suspect, who died of his wounds.

“These things happen all the time on TV cop shows and in the movies,” Thorsen says, “but in real life the killing of another human being can cause significant emotional distress, and the police officers felt it deeply.”

Thorsen knew what to do, and for her part, she found she left behind forever her own personal demons that night.

Thorsen knew what to do, and for her part, she found she had left behind forever her own personal demons that night.

“I had no time to indulge my own fears,” says Thorsen. “There were too many other people to help.”

Thorsen gave “assists” that night, particularly one called “Tell Me What Happened.” This assist, one of 130 developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, encourages a person to recount a traumatic incident as many times as needed to feel in the present and relieved of the sometimes agonizing emotions of a past experience. She then went to the hospital intensive care unit to minister to the 24-year-old wounded officer and his family.

For Gayle Thorsen, her January 2003 swearing-in as a police department chaplain was “only the beginning” of her answer to the 9/11 call to help. She is now enrolled in her County Sheriff’s professional chaplain training program. There, she is building alliances with the senior chaplain and the senior training chaplain in the county, whose mission it is to enlist citizen involvement in the chaplain program.

Deepened respect for all faiths

Thorsen also values the friendships she has made with police officers and chaplains of many faiths — Christian, Jewish, Muslim and others — and their families. “As we came to know each other through training together, we saw how little we knew about each other and our respective religions,” says Thorsen. “We are developing a deep respect for one another that we must also teach to others.”

She has big goals for herself for the remainder of this year and into the future. In addition to caring for her family, coaching girl’s soccer, volunteering at her daughters’ schools, business projects and continuing her volunteer chaplaincy, Chaplain Thorsen is taking her message to volunteers across the nation that supporting law enforcement is of great benefit to the police and vital for the community. She has already introduced the Volunteer Minister program to other police departments, and she encourages people of all faiths to actively contribute as chaplains.

“Everyone needs to answer their own wake-up call,” says Thorsen. “The world needs our help. It can be changed for the better. There is hope.

“There is more that we can do than wait helplessly for bullets to fly and bombs to drop, and it starts with every one of us setting aside our own fears and concerns and doing something for others.

“As a Scientology Volunteer Minister, I’ve got total certainty of what to do in situations most others would find it beyond their ability to confront,” she said.

Thorsen and her fellow Volunteer Ministers are not only on call to help those in need, but are ready to assist anyone who wishes to become a Volunteer Minister. Their ranks are open to people of all faiths, she says.

For information, call the Southern California “VM Hotline” at (323) 953-3357.
Or e-mail police chaplain Gayle Thorsen at

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