Steve Bates, rector of Holy Nativity in Panama City, Florida, relates recent events at his parish involving a person who wished to be received into the church but was stationed overseas:
“Well, I must admit your phone calls are always . . . thought provoking.” So said Bishop [Philip Mekenzie] Duncan [of the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast] when I called him in December with an “idea.” Aaron and Holly Kuster are one of our many military families at Holy Nativity. They have been a part of our family for much of the last year and began our Seeker’s Classes this fall taught by Father Tom Weller. Aaron and Holly were expecting their first child in December and with Aaron’s deployment on January 5th, the couple was particularly concerned about scheduling a baptism before Aaron left for Qatar. (Apparently, the fact that the child was not yet born, was entirely beside the point). Happily, all went well and on December 12th, Adeline Elizabeth Kuster was baptized into the community of faith. However, Aaron’s deployment meant he could not be present for Bishop Duncan’s visitation on January 16th. Thus, the phone call.
“What about receiving into the Episcopal Church that day via Skype?” I asked. “I’m not sure that’s ever been done before,” said Bishop Duncan. “So . . . ” I replied. And after a bit of conversation, Bishop Duncan graciously agreed to receive Aaron into the Episcopal Church via Skype. At the 10:30 service on January 16th, Holly Kuster was confirmed, along with 14 others, into the Episcopal Church. I watched as Holly, suddenly a single mother of a newborn, struggled to take care of Adeline. I watched as Jaime Camazind, another parishioner whose daughter was being confirmed, took Adeline and cared for her during the service. I celebrated our family. Around the same time, Aaron Kuster made his way to the base chapel in Qatar. There, he found an Episcopal Prayer Book and waited. At the dismissal, I said, “let us go in peace to Battin Hall (our parish hall).
The entire parish entered Battin Hall where a “big screen,” projector and computer had been set up. Being a technologically challenged person, I had my doubts whether this “idea” would work. Yet, almost immediately, Aaron was connected to his parish family and with his prayer book, Bishop Duncan read the questions for a candidate for reception and Aaron responded.