Summer time seems to be the prime time for major emergencies. The last few years, the most challenging, heart-wrenching, and difficult pastoral crises have happened during the summer. Sure, pastoral emergencies happen all the time, but I have found the summer months tend to be the times when I find myself in an ER waiting room, an ICU, or praying in the chapel of a hospital overnight.

Tonight I’m writing this blog post from the ICU waiting room of Grady Hospital in Atlanta, where I am waiting with my sister Staci during a long haul of recovery after my brother-in-law Alan’s motorcycle accident. Last week I got the call that Alan had been in an accident on his way from Alabama to North Georgia to ride motorcycles with a friend. I didn’t know anything else but that he was being airlifted to Grady Memorial in Atlanta. My sister was away on a church retreat, so as it turned out, I was the first person to get to the hospital. Alan was already in surgery at that time, but it would be hours before we would find out the extent of his injuries.

A guy had pulled out in front of Alan on a highway in Cartersville, Georgis. Alan saw him and tried to dodge, but ended up slamming right into the other guy’s truck. He ruptured his diaphragm, bruised many internal organs, lost his spleen, and broken several bones in both arms and legs. By the grace of God, he suffered no head injuries, and is expected to make a full recovery after a few surgeries. He’ll be at Grady for a couple of weeks, which is difficult for Staci because home is 2 hours away.

In times like these, families pull together and mine is no different. Everyone has taken turns staying with Staci. My aunt from South Florida even flew up and has been here. Alan is a police officer, and so almost every night, a fellow officer has been here with Staci for protection and support. People have brought food & cash to Staci, and most importantly, they’ve been praying non-stop.

When I first showed up here, I was wearing my collar. As I rode the elevator, people would talk to me politely. Nurses and staff members would take me through the back hallways to get where I needed to go. I was treated with the utmost respect. The next day, I thought I would try a social experiment. I put on a T-shirt and shorts to see if anyone would notice. They didn’t. In the elevators, no one looked at me. The staff put away their secret handshakes. And of course, why wouldn’t they? I was a “normal” person. It’s nice to know that the collar garners some respect these days, but I couldn’t help but be puzzled by it all.

The greatest amount of pastoral care has not come from me or any other ordained person (even though many have been present to Staci during this). The most pastoral love and care has come from the TRUE ministers of the church…the laity. In times of crisis, it has been the lay order of ministry that has really come through, offering their kind words of encouragement, their hugs, and their buckets of chicken. Priests and other ordained people get the respect for being pastoral. Why? Because we wear a collar? What makes me a pastor is not what I wear but by virtue of being a baptized member of the Church. Being human makes us pastors.

Never underestimate the role you have as baptized ministers of our Lord Jesus Christ, my friends. You don’t need a collar to be Christ’s hands and feet.

I don’t know why summertime seems to be the prime time for late night emergency hospital visits, and I sure hope this is it for 2012. I do love being present during crises, even though they are painful and emotionally exhausting. There is something Eucharistic about sitting in a darkened room, eating vending machine chips and sipping McDonald’s coffee from styrofoam.

The Holy Spirit seems very palpable amidst the fluorescent lights, the sanitized walls, and the uncomfortable chairs on which we sleep. Jesus seems very present in the snoring family members that flank me as I type. The Lord our God is indeed with us during these challenging times. Thanks be to God!