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