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Category: Chaplain

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.




In Times Like This

As a Chaplain in a Level One Trauma Center with approximately 1,140 beds, and an outpatient clinic that sees 1,500 persons daily, we see a lot of miracles every day.

People have surgeries of every kind here, others participate in specialized treatments, and still others receive life-giving medicine.  Hopefully all receive care and compassion from an amazing staff of professionals.  People come to us broken, and very sick, and most of them leave so much better than before they came to see us.  Some call it medicine, others call it miracle.  I believe it is both.

And then there are others, the ones who no matter what our medical teams can offer, no matter how fervent our chaplains can pray, no matter how much love and tenderness is given, there is no miracle for this patient, and they die.

Today my heart is heavy because of the deaths that have happened recently.  A young person with so much life ahead is killed in an automobile accident.  A young mother and wife dies of a disease we could not cure.  A grandfather and father much beloved cannot overcome his illness this time like he has so many times before.  The list is long.

And so I pray.

God, in times like this, give these families comfort, strength, and peace that only you can give.  In times like this, we do not have words to say that can take the pain away.  In times like this, use us somehow to show your love for the human family and remember that all are our brothers and sisters.

God, in times like this, I pray for our chaplains, social workers, music therapists, occupational and physical therapists, nutritionists, pharmacists, information specialists, lab techs, nurses, patient transporters, environmental service workers, physicians, administrators, and all who work in the hospital, and all who care for the sick.

God in times like this, help us to care for ourselves so that we can take care of those you have entrusted to us.  Give us rest and sleep, healthy nutrition, exercise, sharp minds, and renewed spirits that resolve to care for others as we would for our own family members, because indeed they are.  And as we grieve with our patients and families, help us to turn to one another and to you as the Sustainer and Giver of Life.  Amen.”

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