I had a phone call a month or so ago from the chief at the Dunedin Fire station. I have been Workplace Support Chaplain there for 25, nearly 26 years. The chief asked if I had a few moments to talk and then proceeded to tell me they wanted to give me a presentation, because I "had been such a nice guy and all." He had phoned to settle on a date for this. Well we made a date and told me to invite the family. I was nervous about this and learned that it was to be a medal. Fire fighters get a gold star medal if they have served 25 years, but my few hours every week should not amount to the same sort of thing. Then I learned it was to be the "Honorary Chaplains medal", and upon checking it out on line, realised that there had only ever been 6 of them given.
In 2003 I had received a significant honour from the Governor General of NZ, the "Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit" medal. It was strange that with this one I was more nervous than that one leading up to the event. It was to be an afternoon tea, I could invite family and friends and fire fighters and retired fire fighters (Gold Watch) would be there. What would I wear? How many would be interested in coming? I was expected to give some sort of speech, what would I say? NZ is a very secular country and chaplains in fire stations are generally a thing of the past. Do I deserve this honour? So my mind went. I invited my daughter and husband; two of my brothers and their wives were keen to come and the CEO and office manager from "Workplace Support" of the Inter-Church Trade and Industry Mission. (The agency that I work for)
We arrived and we as a family were escorted to the "Mess" (the dining room area of the station) and had to wait for final preparations to be made upstairs in the social hall. I could see retired fire fighters arriving. In time we were led upstairs and as I entered the crowded social hall the room erupted into applause. I did not know where to look. Afternoon tea took place first then we were called to order and the "ceremony" was to start. The chief talked about the honour and spoke of why I was receiving it. He told of how before he came his experience of chaplaincy was not positive so that when he arrived seven years ago, he thought he would get rid of the chaplain. Then he met me and saw me operating and decided against it. He talked of my ability to listen and help and how he discovered that the fire fighters actually enjoyed talking with this chaplain. I was invited forward, my wife was invited forward and given a bunch of flowers then the medal was pinned to my chest. Others were invited to speak. One a retired officer, a hard, straight talking came up first. He said "David Brown is the genuine article!" He went on that everyone knows of hypocritical Christians, "there's a heap of them out there" but Dave is a "real Christian, straight up". He had known me for nearly 26 years, he was not religious, but he praised me for who I was and how I worked. There were others and then I had to respond.
It was all very embarrassing. I thanked them for the friendship, support and growth I had experienced and affirmed their commitment to serve the public and their support of each other. I finished with Dr Albert Schweitzer quote, "I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve." I thanked them deeply for the honour.
Really warm conversations
Then I mixed and mingled and was completely blown away by the one-on-one comments people made as they warmly shook my hands. It was a very special time for me. The retired guys enjoyed catching up with me and said some nice things. Some wanted me to join the group they have which restores old fire engines. I'd love to but you cannot do everything. Chaplaincy is a hard role because you give yourself, and it stands or falls on your openness, your character and approach to people. Your personality, genuineness and being are always on the line. I am basically shy and wonder why people could "like" me? This was a very affirming experience.
|Receiving the medal|
|Ben says, "Dave's a genuine Christian - no BS."|
|The deputy reckons "We have the best chaplain."|
|Me responding - I warned them about the dangers of letting a preacher speak.|
|With my NZ Order of Merit medal added.|
|The family members out for dinner after. It was a double celebration. My son-in-law had received quite a prestigious national prize for "Excellence in teaching". He teaches chemistry at Otago University. My daughter took the photos.|
|A photo the local paper took of fire fighters and me.|
|Looking old and awkward about the whole thing.|