A crew of Ventnor City police officers stood near the stage at the Way of Life Assembly of God church in Ventnor on May 19, clapping their hands in beat with the gospel rock music performance by church's teen worship team.

Capt. Douglas Biagi turned to the uniformed officers standing beside him and said, "This is the nicest thing anyone has done for us in my 28 years."

In celebration of National Law Enforcement Month in May and National Police Week May 12-18, the Way of Life Assembly of God held its first-ever Blue Mass and luncheon May 19 to honor Ventnor's law-enforcement officials and firefighters.

Honorees included Police Chief Michael Miller and several of the department's officers, Fire Chief John Hazlett and Mayor Mike Bagnell, who is also a retired Ventnor City fire captain of 29 years.

The event also drew about 75 community members and included a guest sermon delivered by Chaplain (Capt.) J. Occhipinti, of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. The Marcacci Meat Market and Delaware Meat Market, both in Ventnor, donated food for the luncheon.

Pastor James Macabeo said the event was meant to thank local leaders for their service.

"For law-enforcement month (May), they are doing something big in Washington, D.C., but we wanted to do something for our local law-enforcement leaders, as a congregation we want to pray for them," Macabeo said.

Miller said close community ties is something the police department strives for.

"It was an example of that tie to the community," Miller said. "It's a two-way street, and their support means a great deal to us."

Ventnor resident Joan Errico, a longtime member of the congregation, said this was the first time the church has held a service for police and firefighters, and in her opinion, it went very well.

"I thought it was wonderful that we did this for these men," Errico said.

Bagnell, who wore his fire captain uniform for the event, said it was nice to see the city's police and firefighters recognized for their daily efforts.

"For 29 years of my life, I got used to people often denigrating the police and fire department until they needed them. Only then did they show them their appreciation," Bagnell said. "It's nice to have someone recognize them without needing them. These are guys that risk their lives for us every day. We don't have police and firefighters die in the line of duty every year in Ventnor, but we have had police and firefighters die in the line of duty. When they go to work every day, they don't know if they will come home to their families. That's a risk they chose to take for us, and they deserve our prayers and recognition."

Hazlett said it's very touching to feel such support from the community.

"At the end of the day, it makes it that much easier for us to do our jobs, knowing we have such a large part of the community keeping us in their prayers," he said.

Contact Elisa Lala:

609-463-6713