By Rev. Beverly Worden Devine, Epworth UMC
On Sunday, June 30, I arrived home from church and picked up a piece of debris from my driveway. It was from a palm tree and looked like a heart shredded in the middle, almost in two. Or, was it a heart healing and coming together? That evening, I learned of the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ loss and realized the symbolism of the day, broken hearts. Of course, our prayers began right away and we experienced grief for those dear ones, their families, and friends.
All week I studied and pondered the sermon for July 7. 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, I decided to visit Station 25, our local fire station to ask for a firefighter’s helmet to help symbolize and illustrate my sermon. I told them we would be praying for the Hotshots crew and for our local firefighters.
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 me with open arms, showed me around, and loaned me not only a helmet, but also turnout 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.
Battalion Chief Matt Roberts and I discussed vocation, heroism, and how we each see ourselves, truly, as ordinary people with gifts and skills to offer our community. We are ordinary people who decided to answer a “call.”
On Sunday, I decorated the altar with 20 candles in honor of all 20 Hotshots, the 19 dead and the one survivor. Our prayers were for all who have been touched and all who are grieving. We prayed in gratitude for our local firefights and tied ribbons on our prayer net. Since then, many of our congregation have written love notes to them and are feeling the “call” to serve our community side-by-side.
On Monday, I received an e-mail request that was sent to many clergy to travel to Prescott Valley for the Celebration of Life, Memorial service for the 19 fallen firefighters to serve the crowd in any way we could. I knew I had to go.
I arrived Monday evening and was privileged, on Tuesday, to be present with Pastor Don Benton, Chino Valley UMC, and many other clergy to provide pastoral care. There were thousands of people present and the crowd overflowed into the parking lot where the service was projected onto a large screen. It was well over 100° F that day. Pastor Don and I were humbled by the firefighters and police officers among the crowds outside in the scorching sun in full uniform, lined up and standing at attention for the entire 3-hour service. We met many firefighters and first responders from all over the United States as well as Red Cross volunteers who were handing out water bottles and tissue packets. We offered gratitude and encouragement to as many as we could.
Wednesday, a representative from the Red Cross called to thank me for “going the distance” to serve and offer pastoral care. It was my honor.
Epworth UMC holds these “first responders” in high regard. With thanksgiving, we “faith responders” pray for them, their families, and all connected with firefighters. At Epworth UMC, we now have a permanent bulletin board devoted to our local firefighters, their activities, and events. With pride and a feeling of heartfelt connection, we now call Station 25, “our station.” We plan to combine efforts with the fire station crews to get better acquainted with our neighborhoods through communication, education, and fun!
Editor’s Note: To view the booklet from the July 9th memorial service visithttp://desertsouthwestconference.org/announcements.