When I was in seminary, I wrote a killer essay on baptism. The assignment was to write a detailed parish newsletter column explaining baptism and the process for preparing infants, children and adults for the sacrament. I pulled out all the stops, wrote just what my liturgics professor wanted to read, and, had the essay actually been printed in the newsletter, I would’ve had to officiate at far more funerals than baptisms as a result of boring parishioners to death.
It’s safe to say there’s a difference between theory and practice, between seminary and ministry. I know this because the past few baptisms I’ve celebrated haven’t exactly followed the outline I dazzled my professor with. They’ve been better.
Working as a chaplain for Hospice at Home has reminded me that at life’s end, people think about tying up loose ends, and for some that loose end is baptism. I was working with a family and two of the daughters of a man who was dying said that he, his wife and another daughter hadn’t been baptized and they thought that the three of them should receive the sacrament before their father died. One thing that’s very important in providing spiritual care for the dying and their families is not to push any agenda or bias I (or the family) may have; rather it is to explore what’s meaningful for the patient and assist him or her in finding it. So we talked about baptism for a few minutes, and they decided they wanted to be baptized; and with the patient in bed and his wife and their daughter at his bedside, I asked the other daughters to find the nicest bowl in the kitchen and fill it with water from the tap. Then we gathered in a circle, and I blessed the water and baptized them.
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