The Rev. Malcolm Marler, director of Pastoral Care at University of Alabama – Birmingham Hospital, was ordained an Episcopal priest on January 15 in UAB Hospital’s North Pavilion Atrium by the Rt. Rev. Key Sloan, Bishop of Alabama.
…after 35 years as a Baptist minister, Marler is now an Episcopal priest. In 2004, he married Mary Bea Sullivan, and they were members of Baptist Church of the Covenant near the UAB campus. In 2007, Sullivan, raised Catholic, told Marler she missed church liturgy. They became Episcopalians.
“I believe you can find God anywhere,” Marler said.
Sullivan felt called to the priesthood, and recently graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary. Marler looked into the possibility of becoming a priest. Since he already had a master’s and doctorate in theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., he enrolled in a special study program with the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.
“They were very gracious to me, and welcoming,” Marler said. “I met with a priest on a monthly basis for a year. My bishop was really willing to be flexible.”
When it came time to be ordained, Marler decided he wanted to continue to serve as a chaplain. Marler was the chaplain at The 1917 Clinic at UAB (HIV/AIDS) from 1994-2009, and has been the director of pastoral care at UAB Hospital since 2009.
“That’s his calling, that’s his special gift; he’s wonderful at what he does,” said Episcopal Bishop Kee Sloan. “He’s had deep roots in the larger church – it’s good to have him in the Episcopal Church.”
A friend of Chaplain Marler, Bill Hitchcock of Montgomery, AL, observed the ordination and wrote about it. Marler posted his friends reflections on his blog:
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.