Resting in its charger, the pager looks like a rather innocuous device that potentially might *squawk* after it's initially turned on. There it sits, in the corner of the bedroom, quietly taking up a little four by five inch space on the desk you try to keep un-cluttered. For the most part, it remains quiet, allowing a blissful REM cycle next to your spouse. The pager may have even remained dormant all day as it was worn on the belt, going about the necessary business. But then sometime around 3:17 a.m., the high-pitched tone emits from the little black speaker nestled in the charger. Several sharp *beeps* ensue, followed by the dispatchers voice calling:
"Attention Fate Fire... Attention Fate Fire, need you enroute to...."
Most often the dispatcher was a woman, so her voice became familiar. Still in a dream-like state, you raise your head off the pillow, jolted awake by the pager tone. Hopefully, you shake your head clear fast enough to hear the remainder of her directions. For the chaplain, it was never expected that I would get to the station as quickly as the firefighters, or even attend every call. But I did listen to each one to discern whether this call might be one in which a chaplain would be of some help. On many occasions, I went anyway, whether or not I would be useful for victim support or rehab, simply because my beloved firefighters were having to be out on a call at this hour anyway... and at the end of the day, I'm first and foremost here for them. Nevertheless, I listen to the dispatcher voice describe the nature of the call: "structure fire." That's all I need to hear.
I hear those words and all ambiguity is gone. Whatever thoughts I might have had about letting them get that "downed power-line" without me, or investigating a carbon dioxide detector going off without the encumbrance of an extra body around, fade into adrenaline filled clarity. Someone is possibly losing valuable heirlooms tonight, or business property they've invested their money, sweat and soul into. At best, some already damaged property will require a messy overhaul to ensure no rekindles threaten even more. At worst, a family is losing a home; to think nothing of the unthinkable, yet very real, potential that loss of life could enter our experience before the Sun rises. In addition, my role is not merely to be present for them that lose so much anyway, but also (arguably mainly for), those that will spend themselves to the last ounce of energy (and sometimes beyond) attempting to save life and property.
Even if the structure is an abandoned barn, with no discernible threat to nearby residents or business, my beloved firefighters will still be up combating the blaze, fighting valiantly to "slay the dragon" wherever he may choose to appear. It is at those times when I want to be with them, to assure them of God's presence, to offer them cold bottles of water in Jesus' name, roll hoses for them or help them get the air pack off for some rest. I want to be with them to persuade them, if by any means I can, that God accompanied them on the call, rode with them on the apparatus and is present with them on the fire-ground. Put simply, when the pager goes off, it's a "no-brainer." The call has been issued for ministry to ensue, and I'm going.
For this reason, I've never been comfortable with the way we commonly speak of a man "called to ministry." What does that mean? Does the "calling" reside upon him like some sort of incurable virus?
Doctor: "I have some heavy news."
Patient: "What is it?"
Doctor: "Your blood work came back positive for "calling:" the virus that causes ministry."
Many an immoral, greedy and heretical man has reaped untold harm upon people simply by constructing ministries out of thin air, seemingly "deserving" of such influence because of the "calling" that is upon him, as if a self-declared "minister" may, by the authority of his own internal promptings, get in on the lucrative religion market. Because I am neither morally superior, not greed-less, the only protection extant for people (from me) desiring to be ministered to is that "calling" that comes from a legitimate need for one authorized to meet it from within a structured team. I simply must, for conscience sake, have the comfort of knowing that if an ecclesiastical "pager" goes off, the one "calling" is authorized to "yank me out of bed and into action." Without that type of official seal, I'd be just another curious intruder, messing up the fire-ground order (I'm speaking of the church, of course) without proper authorization to be there.
In addition, the "call" of the pager creates the vital connection between "caller" and "responder." Without it, I'm just a wandering annoyance looking for a place to be relevant, but without any true resources or backing. I don't agree with the common rhetoric concerning the "call" to ministry. A man may say that he's "called," but then I want to ask, "by whom?" "By God!" he retorts in self-assured indignation. "So say you," I counter, "but if God's communication patterns remain consistent (letting the Prophets, Apostles and many witnesses in on his little 'secret' regarding Jesus Christ), then it seems like he would 'call' in some tangible manner detectable by the rest of us in the Faith also. Take an antacid pill, dude. That 'burning in your bosom' is going to hurt somebody."
As for me, if the "pager" goes off, either by means of a request to teach in church or at college, or even the prodding of authorities over me in the Church to prepare for new levels of usefulness in her operations, I can at least say that I'm responding to being summoned. But respond I will, because such is the instinct of one remaining available for timely service. Of course, all of this use of a pager as an analogy for "calling" is made relevant because the dispatch tone truly is the "call" to ministry for a fire chaplain. Of all the "calls" to ministry I could hear in my life, none could ever be so obvious, and inducing a frantic getting dressed and rushing out the door at 2:48 a.m., than that pager issued to me by the fire department. In such moments, all other thoughts of slumbering comforts, personal schedules or inconvenience are eclipsed by the singular mission of persuading (with my presence) my beloved firefighters that, during their exhausting labors to save life and property, God was with them on "the call."