Lt. Paul Schmidt was already putting in 40-plus hours a week serving his community, but that wasn’t enough for him. So he did some soul searching and turned to his faith as a way to give more.
Now, when he’s not in uniform, he’s also known as Father Paul.
Schmidt has worked with the Nevada County Sheriff’s office for 25 years. Prior to that he worked for the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department for 11 years, and seven years ago he was ordained as an Orthodox priest for the Holy Wisdom Orthodox Church in Nevada City.
Ministry and (the appeal of) law enforcement have been in his life for decades. Schmidt grew up attending an Episcopal church, where his father was an organist.
Law enforcement piqued his interest at a career day in high school and after graduation he majored in police science.
He was drafted and spent time in the service, but still wanted to be a law enforcement officer. Years later, he found he was also still being pulled toward the church.
“I always felt called back. I kept finding myself in ministerial roles until someone asked if I wanted to be a priest, so I went to school, found the Orthodox Church and decided I was suited for it,” he said.
Schmidt’s life is varied and ever-changing. He currently oversees the county jail, but has also been the spokesperson for the sheriff’s department, worked in patrol, animal control and served as the coroner.
An officer’s role changes every two to four years in the department. As a minister his role also varies, but with greater frequency, and he often finds himself teaching, doing liturgy and pastoral counseling.
“I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades (in the church). If you think about a job for the clergy, I do it,” he said.
Schmidt finds he’s most fulfilled when standing before the altar of God, administering the Eucharist.
“It’s an honor and privilege that few people have. The idea of salvation is growing to be as much like Christ as you can, and to be a part of that in communion, or the Eucharist, is taking part in him and having him in the most intimate way. It’s a high honor,” Schmidt said.
The sheriff’s department, however, is his bread and butter — the 40-hour-a-week job that he does his “priest work” around.
Orthodoxy is the second largest church behind Roman Catholicism, he says, but most ministers aren’t paid and have other jobs.
Some who work in law enforcement are officers through and through, not just a job, but who they are. Schmidt walks that line delicately, but resolutely.
“I learned long ago, it’s a job. It’s a career, but not necessarily my life. It’s not who I am as a person,” he said.
“I’ve never regretted that decision. It’s always been fun. There are hard times though, times when you see the absolute worst in people.”
Despite the challenges of law enforcement, Schmidt is driven to help people. He was recently out with a group of close friends — a doctor, attorney, clergyman — when a name came up in conversation.
They all knew the person though their different venues, realizing that through their different endeavors, they were all there to help people.
“Everybody had the same ideals. Everybody wanted to help mankind. When you work with human beings, you run the risk of hurting them, but you try not to. You try to help society, and that’s where being a cop and being a priest is not that different.”
The Holy Wisdom Church Orthodox Church is located in Nevada City, with Sunday services at 9:30 a.m.
Katrina Paz is a freelance writer in Grass Valley.