I almost never watch broadcast TV, much less an ER that isn't a rerun, but I did last night (9/28 already) and I'm sure you'll be gratified to know there WAS a chaplain in the episode! A mother called for the chaplain to join the OR team for emergency surgery on a teeny distressed preemie baby from the NICU (we won't say whose!) because the father had wanted to have the baby baptized and the outcome looked so iffy. My predictible plot-meter suggests there had previously been conflict between the parents over whether or not to baptize, but I missed the beginning so can't say for sure.I asked Claire, "Was the big black book scrubbed, too?" I've never been in an OR, but I'm pretty sure that a non-sterile Bible wouldn't be allowed in there, and I'm positive that non-sterile vestments wouldn't be. (If I'm wrong about any of this, I'm sure someone will correct me!)
Anyway, the chaplain appeared in the OR scenes, all scrubbed, gowned and masked just like everybody else except he was praying over a big black book with with a big cross on the cover conspicuously displayed in the shot. He MAY have had some kind of purple vestment on over the scrubs, can't remember for sure.
While I'm glad that ER finally got around to including a chaplain, it sounds as if this episode perpetuated three more fallacies, two small and one large:
1. At least where I volunteer, chaplains don't lug Bibles around. In the Spiritual Care Department, there's a big box with bound copies of the Psalms and the New Testament, like those Gideon Bibles you find in hotel rooms. Sometimes I'll ask if an ER patient would like one of these, and if the patient says yes, I'll run upstairs and get one. But I don't carry them as a matter of course. I carry a clipboard case with pens, my cell phone, prayer cards, packs of tissues -- my #1 most-in-demand item -- and pretty plastic rosaries made by other volunteers (also often greatly in demand: an indigent patient once asked shyly for four of them to give to her family as Christmas presents).
2. Vestments are liturgical garments worn during church services. Nobody wears them around the hospital. Chaplains who are ordained will often (not always) wear a clerical shirt and collar, but vestments are different: heavy, hot, jaw-droppingly expensive, and strictly ceremonial. Those puppies cost the world to clean, and you definitely don't want to get hospital goop on them.
3. Okay, here's the biggie: you don't need a chaplain to baptize someone. Here are the emergency-baptism instructions from page 313 of the Book of Common Prayer:
In case of emergency, any baptized person may administer Baptism according to the following form.That's it. Water and an invocation of the Trinity: that's all it takes. In a real emergency, if clean water isn't available, you can use saliva, although I trust that would never be necessary in a hospital.
Using the given name of the one to be baptized (if known), pour water on him or her, saying:
I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
If you don't know if the person's been baptized, say, "If you are not already baptized, Name, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." If someone who's been given an emergency baptism recovers, the baptism should be recognized at a public celebration of the sacrament in the patient's faith community, with appropriate clergy presiding. In that case, the full baptismal rite will be performed, except that the water won't be administered again. But all baptized people can perform emergency baptisms: relatives, friends, nurses, doctors, security guards, volunteers, other patients.
I've never had to do this. I was only asked to perform a baptism once, and that was a joking request by a young man who was in the ER for something like a sprained ankle, and certainly wasn't in dire peril. I told him that if he was serious about wanting to be baptized, he should find a faith community and have it done there. Baptism recognizes someone as part of the Body of Christ, which means that ideally, there will be as many other members of the body in attendance as possible.
But I could and would do an emergency baptism if I had to, and so could all kinds of other people. While some patients (or their parents) might prefer clergy to perform the rite, it isn't always possible to find an ordained minister on short notice. If I were performing an emergency baptism for someone who was distressed that I wasn't clergy, I'd probably say something like, "I have a hunch that God cares much less about those little white collars than people do. Jesus wasn't clergy, either, but He loved everybody, no matter who they were or what they wore. Baptism is an assurance of God's love and forgiveness."
Actually, I strongly suspect that God also cares much less about baptism than people do, but an emergency baptism is an act of pastoral comfort and reassurance, and I'd never act dismissive of it to someone who requested one.
So now you know: if you've been baptized, you, too, can perform an emergency baptism! I hope that most hospital personnel, especially NICU nurses, are already aware of this. But if you weren't before, now you are.
(Note: if you haven't been baptized and there's no one around who has been, I suspect that the love and compassion you'd display by performing the rite would outweigh any theoretical risk to your soul or the soul of the patient. This is assuming, of course, that performing the rite wouldn't offend your own beliefs. Distraught patients and their loved ones probably aren't going to ask you to whip out a baptismal certificate. But I'm on truly heretical ground here, so you never heard me say this.)
So now can we get that non-sterile Bible out of the OR, please?