Reaching the Community in More Ways Than One
For the past six years, Dustin McCaleb, pastor of Granite Falls (Minnesota) Assembly of God, has served on the town's volunteer fire department. The community of 2,800 relies on this team of dedicated volunteers to provide essential support in emergencies.
McCaleb and his wife Rhoda, who have three children, moved to Granite Falls eight years ago to pastor the church, which averages around 45 attendees. He says he felt motivated to join the fire department as a means of engaging with the community as a result of attending a Rural Compassion training conference.
In order to volunteer, McCaleb had to complete 120 hours of classroom training. He also had to overcome the stereotypes associated with his profession.
"They wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to come in and be a pastor to the fire department," McCaleb recalls. "They didn't want me to be the morality police, they just wanted someone who would come in and be one of the guys."
McCaleb has strived to do just that, and he's developed solid relationships with the diverse group of 30 fellow firefighters, despite differences in lifestyles and beliefs.
"The camaraderie that I feel with the fire department is something that I wish every church would feel in its walls," McCaleb says. "I've got guys that call me their brother just because I'm on the fire department with them."
Although balancing the roles of pastor and firefighter may seem challenging, McCaleb sees no distinction. He considers everything he does as part of his ministry for the church, whether preparing a sermon or rushing to an emergency scene when his fire department pager receives an alert. Granite Falls firefighters come face-to-face with senseless tragedies.
"Sometimes instead of saving people, we see them take their final breath," McCaleb says.
Having experienced the emotional letdown that can accompany this type of work, McCaleb is keenly aware of the need for ministry to emergency responders. He's witnessed fellow firefighters turn to alcohol and other substances in an effort to self-medicate.
In the aftermath of tragedy, McCaleb doesn't claim to have all the answers. When other firefighters wrestle with difficult questions, McCaleb shares in the pain.
"I tell them I don't feel good about that accident scene, that I don't have peace right now, but I'm going to my Savior who is a peace provider," McCaleb says.
McCaleb sees the benefit of building relationships that are forged through time and vulnerability, even if firefighters don't start attending church.
"If I wasn't here, I would have missed some incredible opportunities to speak into people's lives," McCaleb says.
Granite Falls Fire Chief Craig Opdahl describes McCaleb as a good worker who takes care of whatever job is placed in front of him. While McCaleb's primary focus is his duties as a volunteer firefighter, Opdahl says there have been times when he or other volunteers have gone to McCaleb with questions or to seek counsel.
Steve Donaldson, Rural Compassion senior director, affirms the need for other pastors to serve in the way McCaleb does.
"Rural pastors are important influencers in their communities," Donaldson says. "Emergency services puts a pastor right in the middle of the life flow of a small town. By showing Christ, many opportunities come to speak about Christ's love for people."