from Roger Curry, Diaconal Minister for the Region…
A fire engine passes your church during worship. They are on their way to a fire. How does the congregation react?
Well, the siren and the air horns are LOUD. You might have to pause the service for a few seconds until the din dies down. It’s no more than a minor inconvenience.
Is that it?
May it shouldn’t be.
Years ago, I worked as a paramedic at a busy station. Often, I worked on Sunday. Rescue 20 was located near a large Methodist Church. We had to drive up a side street to the church to turn onto Main Street. Often, we wondered aloud what the people in the service were thinking.
The partner I usually worked with was something of a philosopher. He wondered if the people in the church paused to pray for the person we were going after or for us. And sometimes, he said, hey, they’re in church, but so are we.
The Emergency Services - Fire Departments, Emergency Medical Services, and Police Departments - live the spirit of James:
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
James 2:14 - 17, NASB
These people serve all of mankind. They occasionally are in fear when they do it, but they’ll seldom tell anyone about it. Listen on Youtube to the phone messages left by responders on the way to the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Lots of them told their families that they may not survive this call, and that they loved them. And many did not survive. But, knowing that, they still ran into the burning buildings.
This happens on a smaller scale every day. The police officer runs the risk of being shot or having a car wreck. EMS people face diseases, car wrecks and when they are flight medics, they face air crashes. Firefighters risk their lives with fire, and with confined space rescues. When a firefighter enters a burning building, usually the smoke is so thick that s/he’s blind. They’ll only see a faint glow across the room and know where to aim the nozzle. They search for victims by touch and if they need to get out of the building, all they can do is follow the hose. If you are watching a fire and the chauffeurs all start blowing their air horns, that’s the signal that the fire is going badly and for everybody to get out of the building. Then they run a “PAR,” meaning that they have to make sure everybody got out.
They particularly fear emergency calls at a church. A fire in a church is bad. They are usually unoccupied, so they are not noticed until they extend. And a church offers big, open spaces for a fire to extend rapidly.
Many emergency responders do not attend church. Most work at least two jobs - we don’t pay these people very well at all. Some of them, the volunteers, do the work for free.
That does not mean that they are not followers of the Christ of all crises. How can they not be? I’m thinking of things I’ve seen, things my friends have seen and things my son - a firefighter-paramedic - has seen. But I cannot write them down here. Stephen King would find them too upsetting and too disgusting for one of his horror novels. But we as a society, and we as a church, are content with letting these emergency servants deal with what we cannot even think about. Their “day at the office” is not our “day at the office.”
What can we as a church, we as true Disciples of Christ do?
The answer isn’t hard. As a church, we need to do what we have done since the Apostles last saw Jesus in the flesh – Pray. And reach out. When that fire engine passes the church during service, someone is in trouble. They are no doubt waiting and hoping to hear the sounds of sirens, which mean that someone is putting themselves in danger to help.
Somewhere, I heard a prayer:
The sounds of a siren.
Someone’s in trouble.
God have mercy.
The sounds of a siren.
Help is on the way.
Thanks be to God.
Perhaps it’s appropriate to pause in the service for that prayer or something like it.
Reach out. There are lots of ways to do that Remember that the people are on duty 24/7/365. Through Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, through floods and snow, police are out patrolling. In fire and rescue stations, the trucks stand in a quiet garage with their doors open, helmets on the seats and a coat on the door. Day or night, when a call is dispatched, in less than a minute, you can see the lights go on, the doors go up and the first truck “bust the doors.”
Do you ever visit these people? Actually, they are very nice and they LIKE visitors. They like people to express an interest in them and in what they do. They are proud people. These are caring people. And so seldom does anyone they help ever thank them. I still remember that 30 years ago, our station getting a card from a patient. I even remember his name, Leroy from Chicago. Leroy rolled his semi- over a hill and was badly injured and trapped in the truck. His letter was so heartfelt and so unusual that we all still remember it.
It’s sad that this is so rare. A few years ago, a huge 1920's country club building caught on fire late one evening. It was in an area served by a volunteer fire department. Ultimately, it went to four alarms and ten fire departments were working. Several firefighters were hurt, one seriously when a wall collapsed. The volunteers were there till late the next morning. What do they most remember about that fire? That nobody thanked them.
It doesn’t take much. A “Thank you,” or “We’re glad you’re on the job,” goes a long way. On a hot afternoon, when you see a police officer directing traffic you might ask, What would Jesus do? Well, he might stop at the convenience store and drop off a bottle of iced tea to the officer. At a winter DUI checkpoint, I’ve seen police officers act like kids on Christmas when someone drops off a tray of coffee from McDonald’s.
Invite these people into the house of the Lord. Those who travel the streets need to know where they can go to the bathroom or maybe get a cup of coffee. In the Middle Ages, a church was a sanctuary. There’s no reason it cannot be now. Call the Chief of the Department and offer. It will be appreciated.
When you have a special service or a dinner, go down to your local fire station or rescue station, and tell them that they are welcome. Tell the police officer assigned to that part of town that they are welcome. And then make them FEEL welcome. All you have to do is provide a parking place for the fire trucks in case they need to leave in a hurry. (Warning: These are young and very active people. They burn a lot of calories.)
And keep reaching out. Give these people your time. Time to know you. Time to see that you are on their side and that you appreciate them. Time to listen as they s-l-o-w-l-y begin to open up to you. The emergency responders are a special group of “the least of these” whom Christ told us to care for.
By and large, these people follow the dictates of some religion. Many are Christian, many follow Jesus the Christ. If you doubt that, go to one of their service funerals. At the end of a service funeral, the service of the Last Alarm is conducted, sometimes called “the Last Call.” You can find lots of examples on Youtube. The dispatchers clear a radio frequency, and announce that this is the Last Call for Paramedic Mary Jones. The dispatcher calls her on the radio: “Dispatch to Unit342.” Silence. “Dispatch to Unit 342." Silence. “This is the Last Call for Unit 342, Paramedic Mary Jones. She does not answer. She is now serving the Lord. We love you, Mary.” And then, turn and look at the people who are in uniform. And you will see God.