Published: Saturday, October 27, 2012 at 6:21 p.m.
Next month I begin work as a part-time hospital chaplain for the Sacramento, Calif., VA Medical Center. While I’ve been out of hospital ministry for nearly five years, I think I’ll be OK if I remember the lesson I learned 20 years ago on my first day of hospital chaplain training.
The training was called Clinical Pastoral Education and was supervised by Chaplain Timothy Little at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Our program enrolled four students including myself: Vickie, a Catholic layperson; Dave, a new Presbyterian seminary graduate; Frank, a Catholic priest.
Our supervisor began our first workday with various administrative details, but was interrupted by the ringing classroom phone.
“Uh huh, yes. Right away,” he told the unknown caller. He hung up and turned his attention to us.
“A baby is dying in our Neonatal ICU,” he said. “The parents need a chaplain to baptize him. Which one of you wants to go?”
The priest examined his cuticles and said he wasn’t permitted to bless or baptize the dead.
Dave hastily recused himself saying he wasn’t ordained.
Then, as all eyes focused on the only ordained person in our class — me. I held up my hands. “I’m Southern Baptist and we don’t baptize babies.”
Dr. Little insisted that I go because the only thing that mattered was what the family believed. I resisted, saying that my denomination prohibits the baptism of babies.
Just as the heat started, Vickie stood. “I’ll go,” she said. “Just tell me what to do.”
Years later, I’ve processed the incident enough to know that our student responses paralleled those given in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.
Page two of this post is below: