Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Deep fulfillment and privilege.

The latest colouring for NZ St John Ambulances.
The Dunedin NZ Fire Service "Ladder"
Last week has been busy but I want to share a couple of events that moved me...

The Funeral...
I conducted the funeral for the wife of a St John Ambulance paramedic who is manager of the St John Station in a town on the outskirts of Dunedin. She had been an ambulance officer, working in the control room when I first began as a chaplain. She died at the age of 49. She had two adult children from an earlier marriage and two young ones from this last marriage - a twelve year old girl and a ten year old boy. She had lots of health issues over the years and the future was full of uncertainty, but nobody expected the stroke that eventually caused her death. I had married the couple twelve years ago and had known them about seventeen years. I conducted this large funeral, over 300 people present, many in St John Ambulance uniform. A representative of the police was there, a crew of local firefighters and, of course, Ambulance officers from far and wide. I spend a lot of time preparing every funeral and make sure they fit the family and are devoid of religious gibberish.  One of the most moving events of this funeral was when I announced an "open time" and there was absolute silence, nobody wanted to share. But then I noticed a movement and two young boys worked their way down the row of seats they were sitting in, walked to the front of this crowded room, walked to stand in front of the little boy who had lost his mother and handed over a big card that all his classmates had written in and signed! Ten year old boys! A pretty awesome gesture. Anyway I led the funeral, and had wondered how I would go because it had been fourteen months since I last took a full funeral. I was astounded by the positive comments I received afterwards. The "big boss" of the local St John Ambulance region shook my hand, "Well done padre, thank you so much!" I received hugs and sincere hand shakes and warm comments.  One woman said, "It was so good having somebody so calm leading, we felt in control." - little did she know my true state of mind.  "Thanks for personalising it." was a frequent comment.  Even at a Saturday night function at the fire station a woman paramedic, wife of a firefighter just embraced me and said, "Thanks - I was there and you were great."  I was left with the feeling that these guys were really proud of their chaplain. When we finished doing the final committal at the crematorium, I stood as the family came out and started to disperse. The bereaved husband came out and I stretched out my hand to shake his. "Nah!" he said, "You get a hug!" and I received and gave the warmest man- hug men can share as he repeated, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." (Kiwi men seldom hug off the rugby field) I do not charge for funerals, but even if I had, I would not have received as great a reward as the looks of pride, the expressions of gratitude and the warmth of response as I had that day. I did a good job. I ministered to people in a time of sadness and loss and I did it well. That feeling of fulfillment is beyond words to express.
The Retirement "do"
I attended a retirement "do" at the fire station.  Five firefighters were leaving and this was their farewell. The social hall was packed with old and new firefighters. Many retirees were there. I arrived, ordered a handle of beer at the bar and just cruised the room talking with people. The warmth of greeting from past firefighters was great. The conversations were significant and often personal. I spent brief times with each person being farewelled and each said in effect, "We'll keep in touch!" One an "evangelical atheist" I had had a lot of fun with said, "You may not think you do much around here, but I have enjoyed our conversations and you make a difference to this place." He still vowed to turn me into an atheist, but he wants to keep in touch. After the speeches and the conversations I decided to leave. I grabbed my jacket and was headed for the door and a firefighter tending the bar came around from behind the bar, chasing me up, reaching out his hand to shake mine. He is the Union secretary and he has told me he is an atheist. But he warmly shook my hand, "Thank you for coming. Thank you for being here. It is just great." There was such warmth from all these guys that as I drove home I was on a high. Again, the feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction is pretty special. You don't get much better than that. 
I am so grateful that I am allowed to travel the journey of life beside these people as their chaplain - their "FatherTed". It is a real privilege to be there. 

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