In 2 Corinthians 2:12-17, the Apostle Paul describes his ministry and then asks, in verse 16, “Who is sufficient for these things?” This is a question I ask myself from time to time in my ministry as a fire department chaplain.
My name is Rich and I am the chaplain with the Ridge Fire Company. If I can be of any assistance to you right now, please let me know.
This is how I introduce myself when my services as a chaplain are necessary.
What is a chaplain? The word comes from the Latin cappella, meaning cape. It refers to the cape of St. Martin of Tours who shared his cape with a beggar one cold and rainy night. This cape was preserved in a building that became known as a chapel. The chaplain was the term for the guardian of the cape, but the term chaplain has been known to share his cape in time of need.
I don’t have a cape, but I do have an arm that I often put around a person who has suffered a loss. My cape can be the prayer I offer for a person in cardiac arrest and for that person’s family members. My cape can be my role as a liaison between the family and the ER staff or between a person whose house is burning and the incident commander.
Who is sufficient to comfort the parents or spouse of a suicide? Who is sufficient to comfort the spouse and parents of a woman who died of a cardiac arrest on Christmas Day? Who is sufficient to walk into a house where the spouse’s cries of anguish can be heard outside? Who is sufficient to inform the family that a family member is dead from running his ATV into a tree?
Paul’s answer to the question of sufficiency, and my answer to this question, is found in 2 Corinthians 3:5: “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”
When I volunteered to serve as chaplain when I joined the fire company (because I knew their former chaplain and knew he was going to Africa) I figured that since I went to Westminster, had pastoral experience and was a trained Stephen Minister, I could do this job. And, for the most part, I can and do it with that experience. But situations came along that presented major challenges. I learned that I had to pray and look to God for help to deal with these situations. My sufficiency or competency had to come from God.
As chaplain, I have a ministry to the fire company. I pray at our monthly meetings and our twice a year dinners. With the permission of the fire company, I put a rack in a corner of the station (the chaplain’s corner) with a variety of booklets on topics that I thought would be pertinent to the members. If a member is in the hospital, I try to visit. I talk with our members at drill or calls. Some of our members have their own ministries that I pray for. On our calls, I may assist in a rescue or roll hose or other similar duties.
I also have a ministry to the community. When a call requires my services as chaplain, my ministry becomes one of presence. It is sometimes said that when the chaplain shows up it means God has arrived. The ministry of presence means I am there for those people if they allow me to be present with them. I am not necessarily there to evangelize, though, that could happen. I am not there to debate theology. I am there to provide a kind of first aid in stressful situations. The goal is to help the spouse or other family members understand that their grief or fear is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Prayer is always a part of this process. I am always praying, often with the person experiencing grief or fear. I listen to them as they tell their story about what has happened. I try to reassure them when they feel a sense of guilt about not preventing what happened or think they could have done more for the person. I talk with them about the person who died and listen to their story about them. I stay with people as long as they need me, until their pastor comes, until they have enough family or friends to feel ok, until the funeral home comes and leaves.
I have stood at the back of an ambulance, put my hand on the window and prayed for the person who is in there. God has often answered those prayers by sustaining their life. Sometimes he doesn’t. There have been calls where we find that a person is deceased. I pray for them, too, not to get them into heaven, but to commit them to the abundant mercy of God who alone knows their relationship to Christ. On one occasion, I conducted the funeral of the brother of one of our fire company members.
Even though I am a Reformed, evangelical Christian, I have to be able to care for people of any religion or no religion. On one call, where a spouse died, I stayed with the surviving spouse until the funeral director came. It turned out that the deceased was Jewish. I offered to have prayer before the person was taken to the funeral home. The other spouse agreed, so I offered a prayer from a book I carry in both Hebrew and English. I also pray for persons who have died, as I did once for a person who died while driving down the road. I committed her to God before she was taken away. I don’t pray deceased persons into heaven, but, trusting in the mercies of our God, I commend them to Him.
This is one of the ways I offer myself to God, and it has pleased Him to use me.