They are the ones who arrive first at the scene of a car wreck, natural disaster, fire, terrorist attack, shooting or other emergency. They are the ones who render aid in high stress situations and tragedy.
They are the ones who question not the danger that may await—but are concerned only with helping their fellow man and woman as part of a calling heard only by the few. They are first responders—a special crew, providing lifesaving measures for strangers.
On the 18th anniversary of Sept. 11, the Culpeper community gathered for the first-ever Prayer Service and Tribute for local first responders. Various faith leaders stood atop the staircase leading to the county jail office to utter words of protection on a day remembered for the high cost to first responders.
On 9/11, the New York City Fire Department lost 343 among its ranks while 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority officers perished, according to the 9/11 Commission. Many more fell ill and continue to suffer from their response on that day. Some 300 miles away in downtown Culpeper, a contingent—many in uniforms—gathered for song and appeals to a higher power.
Pastor Erik Kalenga, of his Village Church, organized the hour-long noonday service that took place on the shady side of the courtyard next to the Culpeper County Courthouse. Born in the Congo and raised in South Africa, he moved to the U.S. just two months before 9/11.
“My life was forever changed because of what we all witnessed,” said Kalenga, who became a U.S. citizen in 2016. He recalled how the country came together after 9/11 for a cause and a reason. “We put our differences aside and said, we are going to unite,” Kalenga said.
On Wednesday, a small crowd united to honor first responders. Mayor Mike Olinger read a proclamation declaring Sept. 11, 2019 as Patriot Day in the town of Culpeper. Tabatha Haines and Candice Kalenga provided the music and words of appreciation to first responders.
“We praise the people who are still working in this position,” Haines said. “You don’t know if you are going to make it home, but still you serve.”
Arthur Fellows, chaplain with the Culpeper Volunteer Rescue Squad, gave a prayer for firefighters. A volunteer first responder for 53 years in his native New York, he moved to Culpeper a decade ago and continued to serve, providing a spiritual presence for those working on the front lines.
“It’s something inherited in a person—they want to help others,” Fellows said of what makes a first responder go towards danger. “It’s the adrenalin of wanting to serve when it looks like they are rushing in as everyone else is rushing out.”
Two of his children were working as Fairfax County firefighters on 9/11 and his son is currently rendering aid in hurricane-destroyed Bahamas, Fellows said, adding, “We owe a lot to these fine people.”
He recited the Fireman’s Prayer: “When I am called to duty, God whenever flames may rage, Give me the strength to save some life Whatever be its age.”
A prayer for law enforcement by Chaplain Henderson with the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office asked for protection from physical and emotional harm and for the families that serve alongside them.
“I never knew my mom or dad,” the Rev. Ludwell Brown prayed, on behalf of the children of parents who perished in the attack, asking God to give them protection. “I can’t tell you what they looked like, but one thing I can tell you is they were brave,” the reverend said.
A prayer for medical personnel by Pastor Harold Smith asked blessings for people who work day and night to save as many people as possible. A prayer for 9/11 personnel by Pastor Jeff Light asked for mental health protections for dispatchers who pick up the phone and hear screams for help, and for the nightmares the dispatchers experience.
Pastor Ron Young prayed for the military service members who served and continue to do so.
“Let us remember the many that ran onto the battlefield to defend our nation,” he said. “Many men and women have stood in the gap of those who tried to remove our freedom.”
Young emphasized America is one nation: “Without unity, we fall.”