A phone call interrupted the instructor on my first day of training to become a hospital chaplain. Vickie, David and I were desperately trying to absorb new clinical information.
Our supervisor, Chaplain Timothy Little, explained to the three of us that a “volunteer” was needed to go to the Neonatal ICU to baptize a baby who was dying.
Dave expressed some relief when he said he wasn’t ordained. Then all eyes focused on the only ordained man in our class — me.
“Oh no,” I protested with certain orthodoxy. “I couldn’t possibly baptize a baby. I’m a Baptist, and we don’t baptize babies.”
Chaplain Little said it simply didn’t matter what I believed. The only thing that mattered was what the family believed.
Interrupting our exchange, Vickie quickly said she’d go. “Just tell me what to do.”
And with the briefest of instructions, the supervisor sent Vickie on her way, but not before fixing me with a “we’ll-talk-about-this later” stare.
Years later, I’ve processed the incident enough to know each one of the answers represent some real-life theology.
Dave said, “I can’t.”
I said, “I won’t.”
Yet Vickie’s concluded, “With God’s help, I must.”
Our responses had similarities to those given in the parable Jesus told of the Good Samaritan. He told the story in response to a question posed about what one needed to do to get to heaven.
The following is a Chaplain Norris paraphrase:
There was a church fellow who was beaten by robbers and left alongside the road for dead. Two “ordained” men saw the poor soul, but they wouldn’t help, lest they be late for church.
Along came a third person, an “unordained” sap from a different church. Nevertheless, he stopped to bandage the man and pay for his medical care.
My initial response that day in class reminded me of this parable, but unfortunately I was not the Good Samaritan. I was among the “ordained” who walked around the wounded to arrive at the orthodox answer.
Vickie, the “unordained,” was the “Good Samaritan” in our story, and an hour later, she returned to us in tears.
At first, all she could manage to tell us was, “He was so tiny.” She repeated it several times. She told us all how this baby, who was no bigger than her hand, breathed his last breath under the blessing of her hand.
We looked at her incredulously. How had she mustered the strength to do such a thing? That’s when she said something I’ll never forget.
“It was such an honor,” she said, slowly intoning that last word. The family, she explained, had invited her to share an intimate moment in their lives.
The baptism happened more than 17 years ago, and today, there are still situations when I want to say “I won’t” or “I can’t,” but Vickie’s classroom witness that day continues to help me strive toward the goal of saying, “With God’s help, I must.”
Burkes is a civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.thechaplain.net.