Photo: The Newtown United Methodist Church honored first responders following the December, 2012 killing of 20 children and six adults at nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School: Copies of Strength for Service to God and Country were given to representatives of the local fire and police stations. A UMNS photo by Arthur McClanahan.
It’s both ordinary and remarkable.
It’s ordinary for church leaders to take it for granted that firefighters, police officers and public health workers will respond to an emergency on Sunday or any other day of the week.
It’s remarkable that the same church leaders never stop to thank these public servants or acknowledge their contributions.
Sometimes a church is only a few blocks from a fire or police station, but leaders never take the time to visit with these public servants who sometimes risk their lives for them.
A lesson from Phoenix
Following the deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona, the Rev. Beverly Worden Devine, pastor of Epworth UMC in Phoenix, wanted to address the tragedy in her sermon on the following Sunday.
“All week I studied and pondered the sermon for July 7,” said Devine. “My title was already established as ‘Sent.’ As I prayed, I was reminded of first responders’ call to serve and how blessed the world is. Firefighters accept their vocation and where ever they are called, they bring mercy, compassion, and healing on a variety of levels.”
On Saturday, July 6, Devine paid a visit to her local fire station to ask for a helmet to illustrate her sermon.
“Once I arrived at the station, I knew that I was sent on this mission for much more than a helmet. I was sent to get to know our neighborhood firefighters and to forge a meaningful relationship between them and the Epworth congregation.”
Captain Jose Amarillas welcomed Devine, showed her around, and loaned her a helmet, protective gear and gloves.
“His ease, and that of the other crew, confirmed my sense of being in the right place at the right time. I learned that this station had recently lost one of their own and were in the midst of grieving when they heard about the Yarnell fire,” said Devine.
Devine’s experience should be a lesson for all clergy, leaders of UM Men, and other church leaders.
Firefighters and police officers would welcome a visit from nearby church leaders.
Give books for first responders
Unlike Pastor Devine, most church leaders probably don’t need to borrow a helmet for a sermon illustration. Instead, the Commission on UM Men suggests you honor these public servants with gifts of Strength for Service to God and Community, books of daily devotions especially written for first responders.
The Rev. Sky McCracken, superintendent of the Paducah District in the Memphis Annual Conference has served as fire fighter and a chaplain to a fire department. “Each day is an unknown,” said McCracken. “One shift will be spent in the station house with a few responses to false alarms. On the following day, firefighters will spend the entire shift working a four-alarm fire. A stress-free day followed by a life-threatening structure fire is difficult for people to understand much less endure.”
McCracken suggests church leaders visit a nearby station to give the firefighters copies of Strength for Service to God and Community. He suggests such a trip should be an ordinary occurance with remarkable results.
Establish service to honor first responders
Since your entire congregation might want to participate in a service honoring these public servants, local churches may want to invite a few first responders to a Sunday service. Perhaps books could be given to fire and police chiefs and additional copies could later be given at their stations.
Churches may order 25 or more copies of the books form Eight-Eleven Press for $7 each (http://strengthforservice.org/SFS_811_Press_Bulk_Order_form.pdf). Cokesbury is also selling 25 or more copies for $7 each.
For more information about the book, visit http://www.strengthforservice.org./