Michael J. Readinger

This issue of Diakonie arrives in your mailbox on the day after we celebrate President’s Day. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was last week, the Super Bowl a few days before that. And recently, there have been so many stories of the deaths of music, movie and theater legends, sports stars, political leaders and other celebrities in the news. I am struggling a little these days with the way we — as individuals, in our news outlets and through our social media feeds — adore and idolize these “stars” for the work they have done: especially since many of them have earned millions of dollars in salaries, bonuses and endorsements during their careers.

Now, I do not want to pick on any single person past, present or future here. That’s not the point or the issue of my column. We all have our favorites in the world of politics, literature, entertainment, sports, and even the Bible. This is not about who is or was the greatest of all time in their respective field of endeavor. This is more about priorities. This is especially about our recognition of those who have truly sacrificed and absolutely deserve to be called heroes.

The public health crises of COVID-19 and systemic racism have taken so much from our collective lives in the past year (and for centuries, in the case of systemic racism). There has been so much loss of life and so much sacrifice in attempting to heal, cure and save lives. Those front-line workers are the ones who have given the most. Perhaps it is time for us to idolize the real heroes in our society: Direct service professionals and other front-line workers; nurses; doctors, emergency medical personnel; firefighters, public safety forces and crisis response teams; mental health professionals; social workers; health care and human service ministry administrators, executives, chaplains; clinicians and volunteers; and all the others who provide immediate and urgent care to those in need. They are the ones who have experienced so much death, given so much of their time and sacrificed so much of their personal lives to help others. Sure, they may get “hero pay,” overtime, bonuses and/or raises, but is that appropriate compensation for all they have endured? How many of them are co-branding and earning lucrative sponsorships with Nike, General Motors, Pepsi, Netflix or other corporations? I am willing to bet that number is somewhere around zero!

Let me tell you a story about a hero that I know and am privileged to call a friend. Andrea is an ordained UCC minister, a called chaplain, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a volunteer, and a donor. All the things that Andrea has done are inspired by her passion and commitment to those she serves and those she is in community with. Here’s what makes Andrea my hero: in a few days, she will be transitioning from her role as a chaplain to work as a direct service provider for her ministry’s residential clients. She has completed a rigorous training that qualifies her to leave the comfort of her home and answer her calling to serve by living with her clients for a week at a time so they can safely receive the care they so desperately need. Like many CHHSM member ministries, Andrea’s organization has experienced the staff shortages, the deaths of staff and residents, the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the uncertainty of what lies ahead and more than we will ever know.

I am certain that many of you have stories like this to share with us. Please feel free to do so.  I am fully aware that there are inspirational stories about tens of thousands of heroes that are part of your teams, and millions more nationwide.  Those stories offer us hope as an expression of faith for the work we have done, still do, and will be doing in the years ahead. Andrea is my hero because she is doing something brave and something that she “just can’t not do.” Let’s all be like Andrea. Let’s pray for and celebrate the true heroes that we see every day and know personally, rather than some celebrity we probably have never even met.

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