NYS Fire Chaplains Meet In Person After COVID Delays | Perspectives of Faith
WATERTOWN – In May 2020, Reverend Leon I. VanWie, who retired from Asbury United Methodist Church in 2017, was elected Chief Chaplain of the New York State Firefighters Association, an organization with more than 350 members. Due to COVID-19, the annual meeting and training conference scheduled for Watertown in April 2020 has been postponed to last April. As a precaution, training and memorial service were again delayed – until August. Chaplains from across New York State and one from North Carolina attended the four-day event.
Many chaplains were eager to meet in person, as last year’s conference had been canceled. However, some were still hesitant due to the increase in COVID cases in New York City. A chaplain and his wife, from Long Island, registered for the conference but contracted COVID before the event. The chaplain passed away on August 23. Several chaplains, who were unable to attend in person, were able to participate through the streaming service provided.
Ryan Noel Fraser, Certified Clinical Pastoral Therapist, Associate Professor of Biblical and Pastoral Counseling at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee, provided training on “Chaplain Crisis Counseling”. At the end of the training, the chaplains participated in an exercise where they attended to a victim who survived a terrorist attack.
A memorial service was held at Asbury United Methodist Church in Watertown where 22 chaplains, who responded to their last alarm in 2019 and 2020, were honored and recalled in a candle and bell lighting ceremony. Additionally, since it is the 20th anniversary of September 11, the rally reminded people of those killed that day, especially the 343s from the New York Fire Department.
Reverend VanWie has strived to improve chaplain relations statewide by offering bi-weekly communications raising common chaplains concerns and sharing joys, concerns and death notices. The chaplains also participated in several online meetings to get to know each other.
Rev. VanWie’s term will end in April when Chaplain Thomas With is elected Chief Chaplain at the annual meeting in East Greenbush, Rensselaer County.