When the local police and fire departments need a pastoral presence while on a notification call, they all reach out to one person: Andy Jones.
Jones is the chaplain for the Winter Garden, Oakland and Windermere police departments; and the Winter Garden and Ocoee fire departments; as well as at Life Choices Women’s Clinic in Clermont.
He describes his role as being in the ministry of presence. If there is a crash on the side of the road, Jones is there to provide comfort to the people involved with and without injuries.
“We had an incident where we had a lady who was looking for her daughter, and they came in town looking for her daughter because she had disappeared overnight,” Jones said. “It was a collaboration – Orange County and Florida Highway Patrol – and they found themselves in our jurisdiction and they found her daughter had committed suicide. I was called in for that.”
Jones is there in someone’s time of need, and it is his job to find out how he can offer his assistance, whether it’s speaking to one family member, an entire family or at the deceased person’s funeral service.
“This is a calling, and once I found out what it was, God cut me out to be able to do this,” Jones said. “He gives me an extra measure of confidence, clarity and compassion that does not come from me. At the end of the day when I’ve been able to help someone, if you ask me what I said, I honestly couldn’t tell you because it’s what (was in my heart) at the moment.
“It’s a calling,” he reiterated. “If you get into it because it’s a position or the notoriety or the badge you carry, then you’re not in it for the right reason. I love being able to serve my Savior, and this is the greatest opportunity for me to do this.”
Jones is in his seventh year of serving the Windermere Police Department and has been with the Oakland Police Department for six years and with the Winter Garden Police Department for two. Within the last year, he became chaplain of the Ocoee and Winter Garden fire departments as well.
“For me, the most important part is … introducing the Savior to people without preaching to them,” Jones said. “When you can live a life where someone can see something inside of you that’s worth emulating or worth curiosity, then I feel I’ve done what the Father has asked me to do. And it helps that I love people. I genuinely love people.”
TAKING A DETOUR
Jones, the owner of Orlando Quality Painting, decided he wanted to serve people and went to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to inquire about becoming an auxiliary officer. He was accepted into the program but soon discovered his knees wouldn’t allow him to responsibly handle the work.
He was talking to his best friend, Windermere Police Chief Dave Ogden, who asked him if he had ever considered being a chaplain.
“I didn’t even know what that was at the time,” Jones said. “He said, ‘What do you want to accomplish?’ (I said), ‘I want to help people and serve people.’ After we had a conversation, I said, ‘Dave, why would you ask me to become your chaplain?’ This is what makes me want to be a chaplain even more: He said, ‘Because I trust you.’”
Ogden’s office has a glass table full of challenge coins, and Jones said the chief obtained each one of those because he affected someone.
“This is what I want my life to represent: ‘You listened to me, you heard me, you prayed with me, and you made a difference in my life.’ If I can’t do that, I’m not an effective person, I’m not an effective chaplain.”
‘IF GOD CAN MAKE A CHANGE IN SOMEONE LIKE YOU’
Jones was born at Winter Park Memorial Hospital 63 years ago. He was raised in a Southern Baptist church and said any time the doors were open, his family was there. Once he was old enough, he cleaned the church and preached sermons in it. As a student at Lyman High School, he was known as a “Bible thumper” because he always had the Good Book in his back pocket.
But all that changed when he attended college.
“When I became college age, I became a complete wreck,” Jones said. “Everything I learned went out the door. People who knew me back then (have said) … if God can make a change in someone like you, He can in anyone.”
Jones and his wife, Carolann, started attending Discovery Church 32 years ago, and it was there that the couple renewed their faith in Christ. They have been married nearly 37 years, but they have known each other since he was 13 and she was 11. Jones said the day they met, he told her he would marry her one day and she laughed at him. They now have three children ages 35, 31 and 26 and three grandchildren ages 5, 3 and 1. The grands call them Moose and Lemon.
When Jones says his favorite activity is riding his Harley, what he means is he likes driving his Sebring convertible, which he named Harley, with the top down.
“My wife said that’s the closest I’m ever going to get to a motorcycle,” he said. “I have a few friends who were killed. (on a motorcycle), and she asked me to never get one, and I accommodated that.”
Jones’ bucket list doesn’t include the typical travel destinations and wild adventures. Instead, it’s a different kind of fulfillment.
“I have survived two strokes, one brain surgery, and myriad other things that have happened to me,” he said. “My bucket list … is to give my life away for the rest of my life serving God in this capacity.”
Serving as a pastor and a chaplain is one part of that. Another is his role with the IronMen of God organization: He is starting a sub-ministry called The Call, and its purpose is to serve first and responders and their wives and families.
“I used to have these crazy ideas and aspirations, but it 2019, I had a stroke and I became blind,” Jones said. “I lost my vision and lost the feeling on the right side of my body. And in five minutes, I realized that my life had changed forever. Two-and-a-half hours later it came back. No matter how strong you are or how wise you are, none of that matters. The journey in that two-and-a-half hours I went through, I realized that day that I wanted to spend the rest of my life … serving in this chaplain capacity.”
Meeting Dave Ogden, the Windermere police chief, through IronMen of God changed the trajectory of Jones’ life, he said.
“I have a sense of purpose; a greater sense of purpose,” Jones said.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
OAKLAND POLICE CHIEF DARRON ESAN:
“Chaplain Jones has been motivated to assist the Oakland PD and citizens within the town in any way he can. He remains in communication with the staff at the police department and visits from time to time as well. Chaplain Jones mission is to provide spiritual guidance and service to anyone in need and his willingness to respond to any incident is comforting.
“As a police department head, I can say that we are very lucky to have Chaplain Andy Jones as a part of the Oakland family.”
OCOEE FIRE CHIEF TOM SMOTHERS:
“Andy Jones is a great man and a brother in Christ. I have actually known Andy for the last couple of years through the IronMen of God men’s ministry that my fire marshal, Shawn Sorenson, and I have been attending almost every Friday morning.
“The department has been using another chaplain for the last 15-20 years who has been and still is a great blessing to our crews and our department.
“After meeting Andy, I almost immediately thought he would be a great resource to our department, not to replace our current chaplain but to supplement him. These great men have full-time jobs and family lives and are often stretched thin for their service, so having two available to us helps to fill in those times when the other is not available.
“(It’s) a happy occasion when we have our department chaplains come in to provide a word of encouragement and prayer to department and members. But their primary role for the department and our crews is to help us in dealing with the emotional impact following a traumatic or heart-breaking scene. Our crews witness images and become part of events that are sometimes hard to process. We take the mental health of our crews very serious and want to provide them resources as soon as possible to help them process what they have seen and experienced as soon as possible. This is when on our-call chaplains are tremendously valuable.
“The chaplain will provide group and one-on-one sessions with our crews to help them share their feelings. This is a valuable first step in ensuring positive mental health. …
“Andy has been one of our two chaplains for only a brief time, but knowing Andy through IronMen of God gives me great confidence that he will be a great resource to the Ocoee Fire Department and our crews in our time of need.”
WINDERMERE POLICE CHIEF DAVE OGDEN:
“We are fortunate to have Chaplain Andy Jones at the Windermere Police Department. His role is unique and has benefited the officers, our employees and residents. Chaplains can provide emotional and spiritual support, crisis intervention, confidentiality, moral and ethical guidance, and family support, which are vital to community relations.
“Andy is one of my closest personal friends and was brought aboard as we were still rebuilding the image of this police department. He demonstrates sincere compassion for people that simply stands out. I have witnessed him provide comfort and support to people in their worst crisis moments and with an ability to connect with them that simply can’t be taught.”
WINTER GARDEN FIRE CHIEF JOSE GAINZA:
“Winter Garden’s fire service chaplain, Andy Jones, exemplifies the crucial role that chaplains play in providing unwavering spiritual and emotional support to both firefighters and their families. Through his dedicated service, Chaplain Andy Jones has brought about profound positive impacts. His approach encompasses a holistic support system that not only addresses immediate needs but also nurtures a resilient sense of community among firefighters.
“By prioritizing the well-being of our firefighters, he significantly enhances their overall effectiveness within the organization.”
WINTER GARDEN POLICE CHIEF STEVE GRAHAM:
“He has shown me that he genuinely cares about our first responders and provides for emotional and spiritual support for our men and women. He is on the Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team, which debriefs first responders after a difficult scene that they have experienced. He may also respond to a scene to provide comfort to a victim or a relative of one.
“He does these things as a volunteer, and we appreciate his assistance.”