By Deaconess Selena Ruth Smith
Not all ministries require a pulpit. We can be called to ministry in a number of ways. I felt a call to serve God from an early age. It wasn’t until I entered into training to become a deaconess that I realized I could serve God and serve my community by becoming a volunteer firefighter.
My name is Deaconess Selena Ruth Smith. I’m a firefighter and EMT in Sumter, S.C. Attending church and engaging with my church community has always been a part of my life. I knew early on I desired to be in missions, perhaps to serve as a missionary. I didn’t know how or when this would be a part of my life; therefore, this dream remained just a dream.
In 2006, I decided to become a volunteer firefighter for my community. I never really had an interest in firefighting until I challenged myself to take the training and learned more about fire service and the great tradition of the career. It was tough physically and mentally, but in by 2008, I became a career firefighter.
During this time, I also resumed courses to become a deaconess. A deaconess is a layperson, not clergy. To become a deaconess (in the United Methodist denomination) you must have an identified focus for your ministry. It wasn’t until a year before I was commissioned that I discerned the nature of my ministry. It was right in front of my face and I didn’t even know it! I was called to enter a firefighting ministry.
Deaconesses (and the male equivalent, home missioners), “function through diverse forms of service directed toward the world to make Jesus Christ known in fullness of his ministry and mission, which mandate that his followers:
a) Alleviate suffering;
b) Eradicate causes of injustice and all that robs life of dignity and worth;
c) Facilitate the development of full human potential; and
4) Share in building global community through the church universal.”
– United Methodist Book of Discipline, UMC, 2012, p. 623
My understanding of my call to ministry heightened when I realized there was more to do in the kingdom of God than “preach.”
My ministry is described as “cutting edge” because it is not standard, mainline ministry. Cutting edge is a great phrase for kingdom building because there are different layers of ministry: I’m (1) female, (2) a firefighter and (3) active in ministry. Often times, before leaving an emergency scene I provide words of comfort to the people I’ve rescued and served. I’ve prayed with numerous patients whom were ejected and trapped in vehicles. Too many times, I have prayed with a person whom was alive when reached them, and died while I was still praying.
Three decades ago, there weren’t many females in the fire service or ministry. I live the life of being “cutting edge” daily. As a deaconess, I know that my work to make sure everyone knows their worth is a continuation of Jesus’ legacy of kingdom building.
My favorite bible verse, Galatians 3:28, compliments my calling and ministry as a firefighter. In this passage, Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
It’s amazing how the destruction of fire, a motor vehicle accident or a rescue emergency can break barriers. A person needing your help doesn’t care about your gender, economic status or race. They just desire help. Likewise, when the tone drops at the fire department, regardless of my political, religious or social views, my oath as a firefighter is to serve the community.
My ministry is that I can be that help as a deaconess and a firefighter!