The Ministers’ Morgue - Part OneBlog / Produced by The High Calling
The following is a work of fiction. This short story will appear in 4 parts over the next four weeks and is intended to help us think about some serious issues for those in the helping professions.
An unexpected phone call
I got the news that a minister friend had died in Waco. He dropped dead right on the sidewalk. There was no warning. A witness said he looked surprised for a moment, and then fell in a heap. I hadn’t heard from Doug in years, so I was surprised to find that my name was in his wallet, listed as the person to contact in an emergency. He had a wife, but she left him years ago. I heard he was working at a church in Waco. I wondered why they didn’t call someone in his congregation.
The police told me I needed to go to Waco to identify the body. I had never done that before, so I was a little nervous. But what choice did I have? Doug was a friend, even if we hadn’t seen each other recently. He needed this last thing done for him, and apparently I was the only one to do it.
It’s about a three hour drive to Waco, so I had time to think. Doug was one of the good guys. He was serious about his Christianity. He wanted to do the right thing. He’d always been honest from the pulpit and in person. I found myself wishing I hadn’t lost touch with him.
The Waco city morgue looked like the basement of a hospital in the 1940s. Badly colored tile floors and shiny metal surfaces everywhere. I found the guy in charge, but he said no one named Doug had been brought there.
"Are you sure?" I said. "The Waco police called and said his body had been taken to the morgue. He was about my age. I think he was a minister in a church here in town."
"Oh, he’ll be at the Minister’s Morgue. You need to go there."
"The Minister’s Morgue? Never heard of it."
"Yeah, it’s a special morgue at that old chapel in Waco Park. The Church maintains it, and all ministers who die suddenly are taken there."
"What do you mean, ‘The Church maintains it?’ What church? Is it some denominational thing?"
"Look buddy, I don’t know anything about it. I just know the guy who runs it is...uh, intense."
He paused and then nodded.
"Yeah, intense. I would, uh, definitely say that describes him. When a minister dies kind of sudden-like - unexpected - he shows up and takes the body away. That’s all I know."
I went to college in Waco, but that was many years ago. I had a vague memory of a little chapel near the back of the park, down by the river. I wandered through the park, keeping the river in sight on my right. I found a little stone church right by the park’s back fence. It wasn’t much larger than a small cottage. A fence behind the chapel marked the end of the park's property. Just over the fence, a tangled and wild forest stood like a wall, daring anyone to enter. There didn’t seem to be any way a chapel like this could serve as a morgue. I cautiously stuck my head in the door and called out.
"Hello. I’m looking for the Ministers...morgue or something. Is anyone here?"
No one answered, so I stepped inside. The chapel was beautiful. It seemed ancient, with stone walls and a stone floor. There were dark, wooden pews and a single aisle that led to a simple pulpit, also made of dark wood. On the wall behind the pulpit was a stand with a few votive candles burning in it. The windows were stained glass, which let in just the right amount of light and colored it nicely. It was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. If I hadn’t been there to identify a body, I would have loved to have spent an hour or so in meditation and prayer.
I wandered down the aisle and inspected the candles. When I turned around I noticed a door at the back of the church. There was a bronze plaque on it that said, "The Morgue."
"Wow!," I said out loud. "There really is a morgue here."
I slowly opened the door, a little nervous about what I might find behind it. There were stairs leading to a basement. There was light coming through the window in a door at the bottom of the stairs. It looked like fluorescent light. The light flickered a bit, so I knew someone was moving around in the room behind the door.
I descended the stairs, but before I could open the door, a man wearing surgical scrubs saw me through the window and hurried over. He came out and quickly closed the door. He put his hands behind him and leaned back against it.
"Can I help you?"
"I’m here to identify a body."
"No one is allowed in here except clergy. Are you a minister? Do you have a clergy card or some credentials?"
"Well, I’m a Baptist minister, and we don’t go in much for cards and credentials. So I guess not."
"You’ll have to take the test then. I’ll ask you three questions, just to make sure you’re a minister."
Now everything that had happened up to this point had been strange, certainly. Insane even. But this man at the door with his three questions seemed outrageous even in the context of everything else that was going on.
"This is like something out of Monty Pytyon," I said while trying to look into the room behind him. The man kept sliding to the side to block my view.
"Did Larry put you up to this?" I shouted at the door, "Larry, are you in there?"
"You did say you were here to identify a body, right?"
"He was a minister? Died suddenly? Collapsed, did he?"
"Well, those are the rules. Only clergy may enter. You’ll have to take the test or leave."
"Okay, whatever. Just ask me the questions."
"Name one person mentioned in the book of Hezekiah."
"There is no book of Hezekiah. Not in the Bible anyway."
The man seemed pleased. "Correct! That one catches most of the impostors."
"Impostors? Oh come on! Someone pretending to be a pastor? It’s not like people admire us anymore. Not with all the scandals and everything. People aren’t lined up hoping to get into some exclusive clergy club. Impostors! Who would pose as minister?"
"People do. Do you want the next question or not?"
"What’s a Tertium Quid?"
My mouth fell open. It was like he hit me with a two-by-four. My mind rebooted, and for a few moments I couldn’t have told him what my name was.
Part two next Thursday...