malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: January 2014

A Witness

When we listen to another person’s perspective of an event you both attended, it is like turning a beautiful piece of cut glass to see the many different hues sparkle and often we appreciate them even more.  My friend Bil Hitchcock from Montgomery, AL, shared his perspective when he attended my ordination as an Episcopal priest recently.  Thank you Bil.
Mary Bea Sullivan and Malcolm Marler

Mary Bea Sullivan and Malcolm Marler (Photo by Frank Brower)

I just witnessed one of the most amazing things….but first, you need to know that I have a friend named Malcolm Marler.

He and I have known each other for years, working on different projects. The thing you also need to know is that Malcolm is a minister…an ‘in the trenches’ sort of guy.

He ministers to those suffering not only in spirit, but body as well. I suppose all ministers do that to a certain degree…but he does it at UAB Medical Center in Birmingham, AL. And that is what he has always quietly done. And done well.

Picture this. A couple of hundred empty chairs here…a couple of hours after they were set up, they were filled. Malcolm’s friends from all over the planet and deep recesses of UAB were there to celebrate his becoming an Episcopal priest….he had always been ordained, but not as an Episcopalian.

One of the things that I love about the Episcopal church is the liturgy…the very careful way that we conduct services. Bishop Kee Sloan was there to officiate…the North Pavilion at UAB for a few moments was a sanctuary. We used our fine Episcopal words…we sang our fine Episcopal songs, but there were some different sounds.

“Malcolm, you understand that as an Episcopal priest you will have certain….” And then Kee’s voice was drowned out by a siren of help on the street below us…once I heard four sirens of help at the same time….it was when a woman with one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard was literally singing her heart out. As she built the cadence of her singing higher and higher, I heard the sirens of help…and then that sound that really bothers me…it’s the one where a very quiet tone is repeated five times…sort of like the sound they had at Montgomery Fair growing up…telling someone they had a phone call…that sound has never been a good sound in a hospital. And as she continued singing, I saw someone on a gurney the next level up from the Pavilion being wheeled somewhere….the person on it lifted their head to see what we were doing. I wish they could have stayed.

So…while all of these sounds are going on…and we are quietly going about our orderly Episcopal service…it dawned on me…welcome to Malcolm’s world. There will always be sirens of help in his life…and the dreaded five-dull-tone calls… and people on gurneys.

It takes a special person whose ministry is literally ‘in the trenches’…as the woman so poignantly said in her sermon…”People like YOU”….she was looking him in the eye…”know that they are called to do this work”.

He is and I am glad…so glad…that I got to attend Malcolm Marler’s “church”…sit in his sanctuary…and watch him minister.

I don’t think I will forget this any time soon. Neither will his wife, Mary Bea Sullivan, or anyone else in the room.

Being Salt

Rev. Sarah Jackson Shelton and I were classmates at seminary, she was my pastor when I was a member of the  Baptist Church of the Covenant, and the officiant at my wedding to Mary Bea Sullivan.  Most recently, she was the preacher at my ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church. Thank you Sarah Jackson Shelton for who you are. (Photos are by Blake Britton).  The bulletin for the service can be seen here.  An article in the Birmingham News can be read here.

Sarah Shelton

Rev. Sarah Jackson Shelton (Photo by Blake Britton)

This feels really different, Malcolm.  The difference is not because you are becoming an Episcopalian.  The difference is not because we are in a hospital.  No, the difference is that most of the ordinations in which I am asked to participate are for recent seminary graduates awaiting their first pulpit.  They have only had their orthodontia removed a few months while you, Malcolm, you are on your third round of reading glasses!  Maybe that is why the mantle of this service feels so seriously joyful.

You KNOW to what you are committing:  the long hours, the minimal salary, the delight of unexpected inspiration, the constant heartache of loving people, and the amazing grace involved in forgiveness and acceptance.  If ever there were a shepherd who is compassionately willing to bear the burdens of his flock, it is you, Malcolm.

You and I were raised uniquely in order to receive this calling.  Our fathers were not only colleagues in ministry, but they were friends.  Because of their absolute conviction of calling and devotion to ministry, they modeled for us what it meant to be anointed and clothed with righteousness.  Their willingness to teach and bear good news, to be laborers in fields white with harvest, grew within us the insatiable longing to be like the elders in Numbers and the shepherds as mentioned in Matthew and I Peter.

Because of Lamar Jackson and Lewis Marler, you and I, Malcolm, knew and understood one another long before we ever even met.

Technically we met at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as students.  And while I have memories of you before that fateful January, I think the only class we ever had together was that January term class that was taught by Jim Blevins and Alan Culpepper.  It just so happened that our classroom was in Israel, where we worshipped in temples and walked the hills of Galilee.

I remember one day in particular that had us sitting on a hillside looking down to the Sea of Galilee.  Dr. Blevins was reminding us of how Jesus gathered his disciples around him in similar fashion.   That as He tried to teach, the crowds interrupted.  Jesus was ever-ready to cure their every disease and heal their every sickness.  Then, as we considered how Jesus proclaimed the good news, these verses were read:

5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
5:2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.
5:15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Sarah sharing salt with Malcolm

Sarah sharing salt with Malcolm (Photo by Blake Britton)

After reading, Dr. Blevins reached into his overcoat and took out a box of salt.  He poured it into each of our hands to encourage us to allow it to season and bring flavor to our ministry.  Not only have you done that, Malcolm, I know that you will continue to do so.

Like salt, you, Malcolm, will be a preservative that keeps the traditions of the church and faith with integrity.

Like the presence of salt in tears, you, Malcolm, will weep with the sorrowful and laugh with the joyful.

Like salt, you, Malcolm will continue to be just the right amount of seasoning to keep hope alive in the despairing and comfort to the bereaved.  But beware, you may also be the salt that sends blood pressures soaring for those who prefer flatness and blandness, control and manipulation, you may be their heartburn.

Like salt, you, Malcolm will promote healing in the sick, lost and lonely.

Allow salt to make you thirsty for righteousness, justice and faith, and may your deep parching provide a model for others to desire and thus quench.

Allow salt to rise on your forehead as you perspire from the rigors of work and play.

Use salt as the medium that keeps your body in balance so that you remain healthy for service.

And in keeping with such phrases as “you’re just an old salt,” do not lose sight of how you season our world with your humor, graciousness, wisdom and sometimes, frankness.

You are the salt of the earth, Malcolm.  Take a pinch and put it on your tongue.  Now, go and be it.  Amen.

Prayers of the People

The bulletin for the ordination service for Malcolm Marler can be seen here.

chairs for ordination service

The UAB Hospital Atrium being transformed into a sanctuary.

In many worship services in the Episcopal church, there is a time in the service called, “Prayers of the People.”

This is a time when one person or many, speak prayers out loud and the congregation as a whole responds with “Lord, hear our prayer.”  For special occasions, like my ordination as a priest coming up on January 15, 2014,  prayers are sometimes written that are specific to the particular situation.

The Rev. Mary Anne Akin, an Episcopal priest and Chaplain at St. Martin’s in the Pines, wrote the following prayer that will be read by many persons from their seats in the congregation during Prayers for the People.

I wanted to share it with you, and to express my gratitude to Mary Anne.

Yours, O Lord, was a ministry of compassion, strength and newness.  You know the healing needs of many in our world. Let us hear your call to attentiveness and action,

Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who are ill in our society, that persons of faith will respond to the Gospel’s Call to care for those who suffer,

Lord, hear our prayer.

Under the roof of this hospital are many healing ministries, grant O Lord, that we care for people from all walks of life in your ways of love,

Lord, hear our prayer.

Many are required for the ministry to each person who comes as a patient.   We pray for administrators, physicians, researchers, nurses, advocates, social workers, ancillary health professionals and other technicians,

Lord, hear our prayer.

For those in guest services who welcome and guide, for those who cook and serve, for those who clean, for those who provide security,

Lord, hear our prayer.

For all patients and those who love them, that they may know your healing presence, especially those who find themselves lost and alone.

Lord, hear our prayer.

 For those in Pastoral Care who minister to those in many denominations, of all faiths, that Chaplains may seek the face of God and be God’s eyes, touch and Word to all they serve,

Lord, hear our prayer.

For Malcolm, called to be a leader in pastoral care, that he may keep the call of healing body, mind and spirit close to his heart,

Lord, hear our prayer.

That he may continue in gentleness, courage, truth, hope and wisdom throughout the days of his work,

Lord, hear our prayer.

That he may know quietness of Spirit in times of frustration and moments of deep joy for celebration, and guided daily in prayer for the challenges of this institution and for the decisions of his life,

Lord, hear our prayer.

That he may know rest and renewal apart from his ministry, fulfillment in his family life, and the continuing love of his wife as they embark upon service to God’s church and world,

Lord, hear our prayer.

For all members of your Church in their vocation and ministry, that they may serve in a true and godly life.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For the peace of the world, that a spirit of respect and forbearance may grow among nations and peoples,

Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who have died in the communion of your Church, especially Lewis and Martha Lou Marler, Jimmie Ruth Dodson, and those whose faith is known to you alone, that, with all the saints, they may have rest in that place where there is no pain or grief, but life eternal,

Lord, hear our prayer.




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