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Trials and Tribulations of a Visiting Seminarian/Pastor

Tribulation #1

During the first year of seminary education, seminarians do Field Work. They are assigned to a congregation, usually a rural church in the boondocks, truth be told. Every Sunday from September to April, the rookie seminarian assists the pastor during worship services, Sunday School, visits to shut-ins, hospital patients, and meetings of the youth group.

On my first Sunday of Field Work, in Scalp Level, PA, (yes that is the name of the town), the pastor gave me an abbreviated tour of the church building before the beginning of the church service. It was abbreviated because I got lost on my drive from Gettysburg.

The tour did include a cursory visit to the rooms in the basement: kitchen, Sunday School classrooms, restrooms, and a dining area of tables and chairs, and a look at the worship area. There was no time left to do more than look in at the altar and pews.

The pastor and I followed the small choir down the center aisle, singing the opening hymn. As we ascended the three steps to the altar, he said, “I forgot that there’s a baptism today. Go down to the kitchen and bring me a pitcher of water.”

Two doors flanked the altar. Believing one must be at the head of a rear flight of stairs, I opened the one on the right. I was in a custodial closet. I came back out. The hymn ended. The pastor began the opening liturgy. I walked self-consciously to the door on the left. Success! I hurried down the steps to the rather large kitchen.

Cabinets lined two walls of the kitchen area. I began opening and closing doors from left to right, looking for a pitcher. I found it in the last cabinet on the right. I could hear the worshipers singing upstairs, and I knew the baptism was next on the agenda. I hustled up the stairs with a full pitcher of water, opened the door behind the altar.

Looked and saw the baptismal font with an ornate, and weighty-appearing lid. Most of the congregation were watching my unusual odyssey. With my free hand, I tried my darndest to lift the cover of the font. Finally, I lifted it a few inches, my arm shaking from the effort. To my amazement, the stone bowl was stuck to the cover!

I set the pitcher of water on the floor. Using both hands, after at least an hour of struggle, the bowl let go of its own accord and landed on my foot. Yes, the congregation burst into laughter. Wouldn’t you?

Tribulation #2

Years later, as an ordained pastor on vacation, I subbed as a visiting minister in St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Harrisburg, PA. Before the service, an usher informed me there would be a baptism during the service. He had thoughtfully marked the page in the minister’s service book for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. The name of the family whose infant was to be baptized was listed in the bulletin, but not the name of the child. No problem. The family and godparents assembled at the baptismal font. At the appropriate place in the ceremony, the pastor says, “How shall this child be named?” The father whispered, “Pindonna.” Unusual name, thinks I. I took the baby in my arms and as I dipped water from the font, I said,“Pindonna Johnson, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”

As I said these words, the family became extremely agitated, talking, gesturing to one another.

After the service, the father told me that in answer to my question of the baby’s name, he had whispered, “Pinned on her.” The name pinned on her baptismal dress was “Beverly.”

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