After Chaplain James Scheller finished his prayer in front of guests at the Garden Grove Police Association Annual Awards Banquet on Saturday evening, he headed back to his seat where he thought he was about to remain a part of the audience for the evening’s ceremony.
He didn’t realize he was, in fact, one of the evening’s headliners.
“You guys all know the secret,” Det. Evan Beresford said to the banquet audience.
The secret – known to much of the GGPD community, except for Scheller (aka Pastor James) – was that waiting right outside the doors of Garden Grove’s Great Wolf Lodge, where the March 3 evening banquet took place, stood a brand-new silver 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 truck (including a rack for the chaplain’s paddleboard).
The truck was purchased with donations raised through a GoFundMe campaign started Feb. 1 by Beresford and a group of others at the GGPD who have been impacted by the pastor’s good works. The campaign raised $40,100 from more than 250 donors.
Quoting Galatians 6:2 – “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” – Beresford said to Scheller: “We did this for you.”
“Our faith basically is right there,” Beresford said as he pointed to the pastor. “So we started a GoFundMe page, James. Because you had a need.”
The need came in the form of the pastor’s 2004 truck that, after many breakdowns, finally called it quits. The work Scheller does in the community and for the agency has made him a beloved figure, and the truck was critical to his work.
In addition to zooming around town for his ministry, Scheller, a father of two, has a 3-year-old granddaughter in San Diego County he visits weekly.
At the banquet, Officer Bryan Meers also spoke about how invaluable Scheller is to the GGPD, where he volunteers his time and rides along with officers twice a week. He read the many kind words and thank-yous written about the chaplain on the GoFundMe page.
He also spoke about how, upon learning that Meers’ father had terminal cancer last year, the pastor insisted they go visit him immediately. Meers learned that Scheller also went on his days off to visit with his father.
“I guarantee you, people across the county wish they had a chaplain like Chaplain James,” Meers said. “We’re spoiled with having this guy as part of our organization.”
Scheller was presented with the keys to his new truck.
Stunned, the pastor said – “You’re kidding me?!” – before embracing Beresford and Meers.
The audience members responded with a standing ovation.
“I’m not dying, right?” Scheller asked, jokingly. “This is crazy. I got a truck!”
Someone in the audience replied, “(One) that works!”
Meers and Beresford know that Scheller is very frugal and wouldn’t have bought such a nice truck for himself.
“If we had given him the $40,000 and told him to buy a new car, he would have bought a cheap one for $15,000 and donated the rest of the money to his ministry,” Beresford said.
Meers went to Simpson of Garden Grove to look for a new truck for Scheller because Meers had enjoyed his experience there five years ago when he purchased a Chevy Tahoe.
Brian Afdahl, sales manager, was happy to help Meers out.
“The Garden Grove PD helps us out a lot when we need them, and we try to help the community when we can,” Afdahl said.
Emotional and nearly speechless after given the keys to his new truck, which can seat six, Scheller thanked his friends at the agency.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “Guys, I love you. … You give me the privilege to come into your lives.
“You know how hard it is for a pastor to not be able to say anything, and here it is.”
Later, Scheller sent an email thanking the GGPD for the gift.
The email began:
Words cannot express my love and appreciation that I have for you people! I am so overwhelmed with gratitude for what you have done for me, my family and my ministry.
Scheller has been a minister for 23 years and senior pastor for 13 years at Faith Community Church of West Garden Grove. He was a chaplain for the Huntington Beach PD for nine years before coming to the GGPD, where he has been a chaplain for more than 13 years.
Scheller’s email continued:
I am so blessed to be a part of this Department and your lives as your Chaplain/Pastor… It is such an honor to serve you in this capacity… It is honestly one of the best highlights of my life in serving you. Your trust and your willingness to share your lives and families with me is one of the biggest blessings of my life!
He noted in the email that the truck already has been put to good use in his ministry:
Sunday, the day after you gave me this awesome gift, there was a family who had car trouble and needed a ride. I was able to use the truck that you have given me to give them a ride to where they needed to go! How cool is that!!!
Thank you again for your hearts and generous gift to me!
With a loving and thankful heart,
“I think I’m going to keep the second set of keys in case he lets me drive it.”