BATAVIA — The pastor who served as city Police Department chaplain for more than 22 years has retired from that role and an associate pastor from the same church will continue the work he began.
The city, on Monday night, honored Grace Baptist Church Senior Pastor Donald A. Shirk for his more than 22 years of service as chaplain and for 36 years as senior pastor at the church. Stepping in to take his place is Grace Baptist Associate Pastor Zack Dawson.
Shirk was appointed the department’s first chaplain May 1, 2000 by former Police Chief Mark Robinson.
“Throughout his career, Chaplain Shirk demonstrated commitment to not only the members of the Police Department, but the community as a whole,” Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said while reading a proclamation honoring him. “Chaplain Shirk is always available to the men and women of the department, day or night, for any emergency, crisis or general counseling that may have been needed. Chaplain Shirk worked tirelessly to ensure the well-being of the members of the department by ensuring they had mental, emotional and spiritual support needed to face their duties and personal lives.”
As chaplain, Shirk focused on strengthening department members’ personal and family relationships through unique workshops and meaningful interactions.
“Chaplain Shirk has been a guiding hand at many difficult times for the department members and also aided many members during notifications to loved ones following tragedy,” Jankowski read. “It is recognized and appreciated that Chaplain Shirk touched many lives throughout his tenure and steady demeanor and guiding principles will be fondly missed, but not forgotten.”
After being honored with the proclamation, Shirk, whose family attended the meeting, said he was thankful for the privilege to be a part of the “community of blue.” He said if it were not for God’s call to be a pastor, he probably would have had a career in law enforcement. Then, when the opportunity to be chaplain came, he truly would have been blessed to have “the best of both worlds.”
“I just want to say, it’s been my great privilege to serve under four exceptional leaders in the chiefs I’ve had privilege to work with — the late Mark Robinson, who appointed me, took a risk on this endeavor and, frankly, said ‘Yes’ to every single initiative that I thought might be a help to the members of the department,” Shirk said. “Then, for the other chiefs — Chief Darryl Sehm and Chief Randy Baker and now, Chief Shawn Heubusch — just a great privilege to work with these men. These were extraordinary men and I’ve been so honored to serve along with them and, in the course of time, to also consider them as friends.”
Shirk also said it’s been a tremendous privilege to serve the past and present officers.
“We have extraordinary men and women in that capacity. No one has the kind of front row seat into the challenges dealing with the darkness and the brokenness of this world that our law enforcement community. That can take a toll on you and it’s been my privilege to be able to come alongside with them and to help remind them that because law enforcement is God’s idea, it comes with his blessing and his comfort, and his strength,” he said.
Shirk said he is thankful to Dawson is confident Dawson will be able to fill his shoes as chaplain.
“Zack is highly relational. He is … going to be nothing other than a true asset to the members of our law enforcement community,” Shirk said. “(I’m) truly grateful for him being able to serve in my stead.”
The retired chaplain said he lastly wanted to thank the City Council for its tireless work.
Before Shirk came up to be honored, Dawson was sworn in as the new chaplain. He began serving at Grace Baptist in September 2021, according to the church’s website. He leads the Young Adult and Community Outreach ministries at the church, and oversees its Children’s Ministries. Dawson has a bachelors of science in Bible from Clarks Summit University and is pursuing his master’s degree in ministry from Baptist Bible Seminary. He and his wife, Jess, have four daughters.
“I’m just thankful that I get the opportunity to serve the police and the community in this way and to be a part of helping to better any needs that are here and to be a support to the police officers and the department, and the community members as well,” he said.