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Category: Chaplain

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.

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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