Baptisms not by the book

The Rev. Dan Scheid, rector of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Benton Harbor, MI, wrote today’s Insights column for the Herald Palladium in southwestern Michigan:

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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4 Comments
  1. Perhaps our model needs to be the Ethiopian eunuch – who was baptized right then and there when he asked.

  2. I really like Ann’s response, and with it the intriguing suggestion that maybe Episcopal ‘by the book’ needs to take another look at the other book where things seem to be a lot more improvised and less liturgically precise than some of us might hope or imagine.

  3. Dcn Scott Elliott

    I’m confused. I don’t see anything in this story which is other than “by the Book” (of Common Prayer), or otherwise remarkable in any way.

    It’s true that The Book anticipates that this Sacrament would be administered in the context of a church service, but, of course, it does not require it. And NOT to baptize under the circumstances as described would be pastorally horrible.

    If the dying man had baptized the minister, now THAT would be remarkable. “Man bites dog” and all.

  4. This my baptism story, which at least in my experience is not normative: While both my parents were baptized and faithful Christians, they did not present me to be baptized as an infant. They wanted to give me the opportunity to decide. And at age eight I’d experienced enough of the love of God through community, I wanted to be a full member and come to the Table like everyone else. My friends and I joined the procession into church and, while passing the font added a bit of water from dixie cups. And during my baptism they gathered around along with my parents and sponsors. The ritual expressed in this way reflected Christ Church, Poughkeepsie’s sensibility that we are all ministers and we are the Church. I’m grateful to my parents for giving me gift of claiming my place.

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