Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Sunday morning I was called into the hospital. A patient had died in the Emergency Room, and I was needed. I was needed primarily to address issues of tissue donation, because the patient was apparently eligible to donate. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived it had been determined that in fact he wasn’t. Staff were apologizing to me for calling me in, and trying to figure out who had miscued.

In fact it wasn’t a bad call. In the first place, the family’s needs were sufficient for a chaplain call, even though they didn’t request it. There were family issues that would complicate the grief. I was glad to be there to help

(Let me say that as a chaplain in a one-person department, for the sake of self-care and the care of the volunteers who support me we do not respond to every death. We encourage staff to ask whether the family wants clergy called, and if they don’t, whether they want a chaplain called. The staff also have autonomy to make a referral based on their sense of need.)

And the surprise – more of serendipity, perhaps – was the voice rising from a gurney as it passed me: “Hi, Marshall.” It was the voice of a colleague, the rector of a local Episcopal parish. Now, it’s never really a good thing to meet a colleague when he’s a patient. But, for a priest to be in the Emergency Room on a Sunday morning has a special sense of need. Many of us are perhaps fools; but many of us would do all we could to ride out the Sunday services and then get help. Fortunately, my colleague has a wife who is not a fool. She called 911 and he became a patient.

We spoke about the events leading to his admission. He certainly realized he needed to be there, although at the moment he was feeling a little antsy while he waited to learn the results of the tests he’d had, and what tests still awaited him. Then I asked him about his late service. He had two capable deacons preparing, as he said, “to do something,” and they had the sermon he had written in preparation for the morning. I said, “Would you like me to take the service?” The grieving family had taken their leave, and I didn’t have another engagement. He was grateful, and I left to celebrate his second service.

So, from a call that hadn’t quite happened as it was supposed to, I had the opportunity to give care to a family, to a colleague, and to a congregation. It was a remarkable coincidence.

Of course, we have all heard someone respond to that word saying, “I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in God-incidences.” And while I haven’t dismissed the possibility of coincidence (and I don’t believe God micromanages), I have had enough of these experiences to appreciate them when they come. I get called when I shouldn’t, or when there’s nothing for me to do in the primary case (the family didn’t really want a chaplain, or leaves as soon as the patient dies, or the patient and family aren’t Christian and are sensitive about it). And almost inevitably when that happens I am led to another opportunity, one that is important and immediate. As I said, I haven’t dismissed coincidence as a concept; but those certainly seem like “God-incidences” to me. And I’ll take’em when they come.


Susan Palwick said...

I've had a lot of things like this happen too (although usually not at the hospital): coincidences that are SO wildly improbable that it really starts to seem as if they have to be Something Else.

I often find these experiences more scary than reassuring, but at the same time, they're evidence that God doesn't consider me too cracked a clay pot to use.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere recently I saw a quote attributed to ++Sematu:
"The more I pray, the more coincidences happen."

Marshall Scott said...

Susan, I also find them scary sometimes. Now, after a long time doing this, most of the time I just smile, bemused.

As for being "too cracked:" you've given me an idea for another brief post. Thanks.

Mary Sue, thanks for the visit and for the quote.