Winter 2003
Volume 7 Number 2
 

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Fighting Fire with Spirit

With “all of Colorado burning” and the events of September 11 very fresh in our collective memory, I’m often asked about my work. At a recent presbytery assembly, a colleague thanked me for doing what I do, a reflection of today’s heightened awareness of and appreciation for our country’s firefighters. Then he said, “But we wish you would come back to the church.” I assured him I have not left the church. We each knew what the other meant.

My vocational transition from pastor to professional firefighter/paramedic is an intrigue to many. After 10 years in parish ministry, I simply view my new career as an extended sabbatical while I explore another aspect of God’s gifts in me. And, youth no longer on my side, the window of opportunity is rather small….

I happened upon this work while a pastor with a small Presbyterian church in the wheat fields east of Denver, Colorado. I joined the volunteer fire/rescue department to help with the ambulance as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was also required to attend the fire academy.

I was hooked, and for the first time in my professional life I found a balance. My longing for high adrenalin physical activity was now being fed alongside the activities of the mind and heart. I knew then that my call extended beyond the congregation to the whole town. The running joke became, “Dial 9-1-1, get the pastor.” Whether it was a fire, an auto accident, or a sick or injured person, I was most likely there.

Understanding the Spirit’s moorings is always a mystery to me. Hindsight usually brings some clarity. When setting out to test for professional firefighter I did so purely for the physical challenge, to see if I could do it, not for a career change. Having grown immensely in ministry and having been blessed beyond words to be a part of a struggling congregation’s revival, I was at the top of my game. Why stop now? But, the job offers came, and kept coming. Was this somehow God’s doing—for the church, and for me? I was torn between a growing church and the fascination of a new career in fire/rescue.

Two months into my professional firefighting career I was wrongfully cut from the rookie academy and was suddenly unemployed. I was crushed. Both the congregation I loved and the dream job I was training for were gone. It was a dark time. But nearly one month to the day later, I was a firefighter again, hired by a second fire department. Such a turn of events is almost unheard of in the competitive testing and selection process. I had not missed the call. It had just needed refining.

Today, as a firefighter and paramedic with the North Metro Fire Rescue District serving the cities of Northglenn and Broomfield, Colorado, I can say without hesitation that God has brought me to this place. At no time have I looked back with regret or a sense of unfaithfulness. This is my call, for now.

 

The Reverend Peggy Marshall, PTS Class of 1989, is a full-time firefighter/paramedic with the North Metro Fire Rescue District, which serves Northglenn and Broomfield, Colorado.

My theological studies at PTS and my experiences in pastoral ministry may not have trained me to fight fire, or extricate a trapped victim, or attempt to save a life. Nonetheless they have shaped within me an unwavering faith in Christ’s powerful presence amidst human suffering. (Those barroom discussions with late New Testament professor J. Christiaan Beker, author of Suffering and Hope, were golden!) This truth and promise is critical in my approach to the work, for it is said that a really “good” response for a firefighter and paramedic means a really bad day for someone else. Rarely during an emergency response, with the lights flashing and sirens blaring, do I not say a quiet prayer asking God to keep me and my crew safe and to use us to help those in crisis. Mine is now a ministry of binding up wounds and helping the stricken. It is a ministry of being present.

When buildings crumble and people die, be it from natural causes, accident, or at the hands of evil, God is there and God is not silent! This is the backbone of my faith and work, whether proclaimed from the pulpit or lived in the trenches.

And, yes, I will be back someday.


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