The General Commission on United Methodist Men (UMM) has established a new organization that will continue the publication of Strength for Service, a book of daily devotions that dates to World War II. The non-denominational organization has also begun publishing and distributing a new book of daily devotions designed specifically for first responders, Strength for Service to God and Country.
Emergency personnel who rushed to Sandy Hook School on 12/14 were selected to be the first to receive the new daily devotional patterned after a manual that has given comfort to US military service people since World War II. The executive committee of the National Association of Conference Presidents of UMM recently allocated $1,500 to pay for the books to come to Newtown.
Last Sunday, during the 10 am worship service, representatives of UMM joined NUMC leaders to present copies to two local firefighters and an EMT. In doing so, Newtown United Methodist Church was the first in the country to distribute the new devotionals.
“This is a great honor for us,” Jon Christensen, a member of NUMC United Methodist Men, said April 28, addressing fellow church members. Standing within the chancel of the Sandy Hook church, he continued, “As a church, this is a very big deal for us.”
Mr Christensen had been invited to the chancel area following a sermon by Pastor Mel Kawakami. During the brief sermon, Pastor Kawakami mentioned first responders, saying they are people “who move toward danger, not away from it.”
Royston Bailey, president of the UMM New York Annual Conference; and the Reverend Ken Kieffer, district superintendent of Connecticut District UMC, were invited to join Pastor Kawakami and Mr Christensen in the chancel area.
Mr Bailey spoke next, telling those in the pews about the books that were about to be blessed and then shared with the first responders.
“These pocket-sized books,” he said, “had been primarily distributed to servicemen and women during World War II and the Korean conflict.”
The devotionals were originally published in 1942, and called Strength For Service. More than one million copies of the book were distributed before the book fell out of print in the mid 1950s.
Eleven years ago, after discovering a worn copy of the volume that had belonged to his World War II Corpsman grandfather, Eagle Scout candidate Evan Hunsberger, then 15, devoted himself to the republishing of Strength of Service. The updated book, which remained true to the spirit of the original but added reflections and devotions from contemporary religious leaders, was released shortly before 9/11. More than 300,000 copies have been distributed since that time.
“We have found that the original books, which were written for military service people,” Mr Bailey said Sunday morning, “did not address the needs of first responders.
“An ecumenical task force committee formed, and a new book of daily devotionals is now available,” he continued. “Firefighters, police officers, EMTs and other first responders are meant to benefit from the book.”
The committee is hoping the book will be an important tool for first responders, he said.
“It is meant to help the mind, soul and spirit find peace during stress,” he added.
Strength for Service to God and Community, while designed for a new audience, holds true to the pattern of the original. The new collection contains 365 single-page devotionals written specifically for firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and others who respond to tragedies. Each day’s reading includes a Bible verse and prayer. Many also include brief descriptions of incidents that are familiar to emergency personnel — a state trooper spots an elderly driver who seems confused, a firefighter deals with a massive wildfire, paramedics arrive at an apartment building after a 4-year old boy falls through an 11th story window after a screen gives way.
Nearly two dozen copies of Strength for Service to God and Community had been placed on a pillar near the pulpit. Pastor Kawakami and Reverend Kieffer laid their hands on the book, and blessed them before their distribution.
Three of Newtown’s first responders — Kenneth Carlson and Robert Sibley, members of Sandy Hook Vounteer Fire & Rescue Co.; and Robert Virgalla, a member of Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps; all members of NUMC — were then invited to join the men in the front of the sanctuary.
Copies of the devotionals were handed to each of the first responders, who then shook hands with Pastor Kawakami, Reverend Kieffer, Mr Bailey, Mr Christensen, and the Reverend Jane Sibley, pastor of visitation for Newtown United Methodist Church.
“On behalf of first responders in this town, thank you for this book,” Mr Sibley said. “We will use these books in our service.”
According to Mr Christensen, local first responders who would like a copy of Strength for Service to God and Community are invited to contact the NUMC office, 203-426-9998, to make arrangement to receive one. Emergency organizations that would like to receive copies are also invited to call the church office.