Editor’s note: The Rev. Terence Dougherty on Thursday, Sept. 27, presented a homily at the Southeast Sussex Ministerium’s Prayer Service for First Responders, held at Frankford fire hall. At his request, the content of that homily is being published in the Coastal Point so that it can be shared with members of the community who were unable to attend the event.
Good evening. We of the Southeast Sussex Ministerium are so glad you could all be here. Most especially we are grateful to all the first-responders here tonight for making yet more time in your crazy schedules, for fitting in one more thing for the sake of others.
We appreciate that you show us again and again how to be people in community: You show up. You show up tired, you show up when you could be doing other things, you show up without ever saying “Let someone else do it.”
For this alone, you are beautiful examples; but you go much further, and much deeper, in cherishing all of us, your neighbors. You never think twice about who we might be. How we got into the jam you mean to get us out of has never made you think “Why?” or “What did they expect?” — at least not ’til after you’d given all! Then, chances are you’ll talk to your kids and your friends, make something good come out of what can turn so bad.
I know, with all the clergy here, with all the educators and mentors here, that we are privileged to be in people’s lives, day after day, watching the stories unfold, being there when we need to be, armed with a lot of knowledge because we’ve had personal interactions with those people.
That’s not in the nature of what you do. In rescuing all of us, you roll up to the house or store or office or church knowing next to nothing, piecing it together as best you can as fast as you can — and you do that amazingly well, cooperating with one another on a fast-paced level that requires ultimate trust in each other. Then you roll up the hoses, pick up the cones, pack up and re-organize the gear, write up the encounter reports, say “See you soon” to the doctors and nurses — and go back to do it again.
I have had the honor of being on a ride-along. I’ve had the privilege of being the person on call at the emergency room. I’ve seen your professionalism, your high expectations of yourselves and of others and, above all, how deeply you care. Then I’ve seen you go, because someone somewhere still needs saving.
I know you need all of us to earn your trust, that doctors and teachers and guidance counselors and preachers and rehab therapists and, yes, prison personnel must greet, help and love these still-vulnerable, still-broken, still-frightened people you’ve handed over to us so soon — too soon.
We must help them rebuild the life you have valued and saved, the life you have sacrificed for. We must tell them and teach them — and, above all, show them what you have already shown them: that they are worth it, that their lives are meaningful, that they are part of the family of God and that we hold that family dear.
I don’t know whether most of you speak the language we Christian ministers speak — and I do want you to know our language is not meant to leave you out or devalue your means of speaking — but it is the language I’ve got to make this comparison: Jesus Christ was willing to die, on the cross, for our sake, because that’s how highly God values us, all of us. That’s how highly God thinks of our worth, of our potential, or our lives.
You all, by your actions, by your deliberate choices, mirror this moral and personal decision. You have chosen to sacrifice, even up to the ultimate sacrifice. You’ve made that choice because you believe that we ordinary people here with you tonight are worth so much that you will give all.
When you do what you do, going in doors, going in windows, going into the cold water, going right over to the stranger shaking and crying, lying on the sidewalk, to help — when you do that, you are the hands of God, strong to save and strong to care.
You are the voice of God when you call “This way,” or “Keep talking so I can find you.” You are the strength of God when you carry someone out, or load someone up or calm someone down; when you let them know one person cares and set their universe right-side-up again. And you give the love of God each time you do that, not stopping at one, because we know you go back for more until there are no more.
My prayer for you is that, at least once in your life, you will receive more than that brief, intense relationship, those minutes or seconds where everything is on the line, human to human, and you come through as all that “human” can and should mean.
I pray each of you will at least once meet one grateful person and receive the thanks of the life you saved, the life you restored, the life you gave back. We all know that may not happen — and we all know that makes no difference in your dedication. We know you’ll still go on and keep going back — it’s what’s inside you, strong as life itself.
So all of us, gathered here, give you our thanks. Our stories won’t be those exact stories — the ones in which you have been our personal hero. But we do know you, who you are and how you are in the world, and we thank God for you. We thank God for your courage, your selflessness, your strength, your will to do good. That’s what we have — sometimes the feeling is overwhelming and we can’t even form words — but, thanks, with all our hearts. Simply, thanks.
By the Rev. Terence Dougherty
Ocean View Presbyterian Church