By Arthur McClanahan*
Copies of Strength for Service to God and Community were given to three of Newtown, Connecticut’s first responders during a worship service at the Newtown United Methodist Church on Sunday, April 28, 2013. The first-ever presentation of the newly publish “daily devotional messages for those in the service of others” was received “on behalf of the first responders of Newtown, thank you. We appreciate it. We’ll use it service to God and in our calling.”
Rob Sibley, Ken Carlson, and Bob Virgalla were among the nearly 100 Newtown firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians, and police officers that responded to the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday, December 14, 2012. Twenty children and six teachers and administrators were killed in the violence that also claimed the life of the gunman’s mother and eventually himself.
Strength for Service to God and Community is a new edition of a volume originally created for military troops in 1942. It was written by 365 religious leaders “of several denominations.” Superintendent of the Connecticut District of the New York Annual Conference, Rev. Ken Kieffer, noted that his father had carried a copy during his service during the Korean War. Evan Hunsberger came across his grandfather’s Strength for Service for God and Country, the title of the original volume, a discovery that led to a Boy Scout Eagle project. Some 500,000 copies were printed with the support of the General Commission on United Methodist Men and distributed to members of the armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Strength for Service to God and Community was written for firefighters, police officers, volunteers and first responders “as a small token of our appreciation for your service,” according to the books introduction. “Thank you for your service,” wrote Evan Hunsberger.
Rev. Mel Kawakami, Newtown UMC’s pastor prayed over Strength for Service before it was presented to the three responders. “O Lord, there are those who rush toward danger and not away. There are those who look to you to give them guidance and strength. Lord, we ask you blessing upon these books and those who are to receive them that they may feel your power and your strength, your renewal in their service to you and to our community.”
In his remarks Royston Bailey, the New York Annual Conference United Methodist Men president, noted, “This book is a tool to help the mind, soul and spirit find peace.” He echoed L. W. Smith, a United Methodist layperson from South Carolina, who said, “I hope firefighters, police officers, EMT workers, and other first responders will find this book helpful.”
Jon Christensen, a member of the Newtown United Methodist Church, coordinated and introduced giving the books to the three first responders. “This book to going to be very meaningful,” he said. The first responders “will use it. They’ll rely upon it. They’ll bring additional copies to their respective first responder units and to all of the eight units here in town.” He felt that it was important for the first copies to be in a worship service. “It will mean a lot to the church” in the ongoing care for Newtown’s first responders. “As soon as they received the books the congregation stood and applauded them, for an extended period of time. That was very gratifying. They were moved by this small, but important ceremony. You could see it. They were moved by it, and the congregation was too.”
(Further information about Strength for Service for God and Community is available at: www.strengthforservice.org)
· Click to listen to the Prayer of Dedication for the Strength for Service books
· Click to listen to Rev. Mel Kawakami speak about “Love in Action,” as a way of life for first responders
· Click to listen to Royston Bailey introduce the presentation of the Strength for Service books
· Click to listen to Rob Sibley express appreciation on behalf of the first responders
· Click to listen to Jon Christensen talk about the presentation of the Strength for Service books
*Rev. Arthur McClanahan is Director of Communications for the Iowa Conference. A Police and Fire Chaplain for over three decades, his is a former member of the New York Annual Conference.