Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Memorial Service for the Granite Mountain Hot Shots
Location: Prescott Valley, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Tuesday, 9 July 2013, 11:00am
The service was held at Tim's Toyota Center, a multipurpose arena that opened in 2006. Originally called the Prescott Valley Convention & Events Center, it acquired its present name when a local car dealership paid an undisclosed sum to become its corporate sponsor. From both the outside and inside it looks much like any other facility of its kind. Tim's Toyota Center is the only mega-stadium between Phoenix and Las Vegas, and as such hosts a variety of sporting and musical events as well as county fairs, trade shows and the like.
The Granite Mountain Hot Shots were an elite team of twenty City of Prescott firefighters, nineteen of whom were killed on June 30 while fighting a wildfire near the town of Yarnell, Arizona. The service concluded several days of public and private tributes, processions and memorials.
Prescott Valley, formerly called Lonesome Valley, is a town in central Arizona about 90 miles north of Phoenix and just to the east of the city of Prescott. Originally a cattle ranching and gold mining town, Lonesome Valley was purchased lock, stock and barrel in the mid 1960s by a real estate development company, which subdivided the land into homesteads. The name Prescott Valley became official in 1978. The town's relatively cool mountain climate compared to the hot desert climate of Phoenix, and its proximity to the Prescott National Forest, make it a popular retirement community and vacation spot.
The Hon. Joseph R. Biden, Jr, Vice President of the United States; the Hon. Janice K. Brewer, Governor of Arizona; the Hon. Marlin Kuykendall, Mayor of Prescott; the Revd Ron Merrel, Teaching Pastor, Heights Church, Prescott, Arizona; Harold Schaitberger, General President, International Association of Firefighters; Tim Hill, President, Professional Firefighters of Arizona; Darrell Willis, Division Chief, Prescott Fire Department; Dan Fraijo, Chief, Prescott Fire Department; Dan Bates, Vice President, United Yavapai Firefighters Association, Local 3066.
What was the name of the service?Memorial Service for the Prescott Fire Department, Granite Mountain Hot Shots.
How full was the building?
The arena can hold between 5000 and 6000 people, depending on the seating arrangement for the event being staged. It was filled to capacity, with video screens and overflow seating set up outside. Several thousand people also gathered in the parking lot outside the arena.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I did not attend the service in person, but watched from home on television. The event was closed to the public and open only by invitation to dignitaries and firefighters from around the world - an arrangement that has not sat well with the residents of the city of Prescott, many of whom feel that they have been pushed aside by politicians, union bosses, the media, and other outside forces.
Was your pew comfortable?
Miss Amanda's rocking chair was very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Television commentators described the atmosphere outside the stadium as eerily quiet and respectful as people set up chairs, umbrellas and blankets in the parking lot. People entering the stadium were subjected to an intense security screening. After everyone had been seated, the choir and instrumentalists gave a rendering of "On Eagle's Wings."
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Friends of Yarnell, please rise."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
Digital piano, guitars, Irish pennywhistle, flute, drums. The Greater Arizona Congress Choir provided vocal music along with a variety of soloists; their director was not identified. Additional music was provided by the Arizona Firefighters and Public Service Massed Bagpipes and Drum Corps.
Did anything distract you?
There were no distractions. Thankfully, there was none of the prattle from television commentators that so often can mar broadcasts of events such as this.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A very moving, carefully orchestrated homage to the Hot Shots. It consisted primarily of tributes by the speakers listed above, interspersed with musical selections. Many of the participants, including Vice President Biden, were visibly moved to tears, as were many of the spectators outside the arena. The American flag, the Arizona state flag, the pulaski tool (a hand tool resembling an axe that is used in firefighting), and the International Association of Firefighters Medal of Honor were presented to the families of each of the fallen Hot Shots. An especially poignant moment occurred when Brendan McDonough, who is the only one of the twenty Hot Shots to have survived the tragedy, read the Hot Shots Prayer. A fire bell was rung nine times, the traditional ring signifying end of shift.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Each of the speakers spoke for about five minutes. I timed only the Governor and the Vice President. Governor Brewer spoke for five minutes; Vice President Biden for twenty.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
I'll rate the Governor as a 9, the Vice President as a 6. The Governor spoke succinctly, powerfully and to the point; the Vice President seemed to ramble quite a bit (although, in his defense, it was clear that he was visibly shaken by the emotions of the moment, as were many of the other speakers).
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Governor Brewer said that we are here to honor and to mourn, but also to begin healing. Our sadness is tinged with pride. We must not despair, but rather hope. She quoted 1 Peter 5:10 (God, after we have suffered a little while, will restore us). The fallen firefighters continue to protect us in God's embrace. We will recover, but we will never forget their sacrifice. Vice President Biden quoted Psalm 121:1 ("I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help") and John 15:13 ("Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends"). He said that all men are created equal, but then some become firefighters - thank God! His mother was fond of saying that courage lies in every heart and that one day it will be summoned. The day will come when we will look back upon this day not with tears, but with a smile.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I can only imagine how heavenly the atmosphere must have been inside the arena. So many of the speakers quoted scripture. One of the most powerful speakers, Dan Bates, said that God had called the Hot Shots home in the exact way that they had wanted to be called home, and that he could only imagine the welcome they received. He quoted Jeremiah 29:11 (God has plans for us) and Isaiah 43:2 (When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned), among other passages. One of the songs, "America the Beautiful", was begun by the choir but taken up spontaneously by all, both inside and outside; that was heavenly. It was also heavenly to hear the assembled politicians saying so many nice things about each other (Vice President Biden, for example, said that he did not know any finer a person than Senator John McCain). Which brings me to ...
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
... wondering why politics can't always work that well. "Can't we all just get along?" the late Rodney King once asked. What a better country (no, what a better world) it would be if only we could!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service concluded with "Amazing Grace" played by the Bagpipe and Drum Corps and a fly-over by pilots from the Marine Corps Air Station at Yuma, Arizona. Persons inside the arena were then conducted out by an honor guard: families of the fallen first, then members of the Prescott Fire Department, then the remainder. Interestingly, the Vice President and the Governor, as well as other dignitaries on stage, were left to wander off under their own devices.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
Not applicable. But the dignity of this service and the planning that went into it could serve as a template for all services of this type.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
"God called the Hot Shots home in the exact way that they had wanted to be called home, and I can only imagine the welcome they received." Dan Bates.