David’s journey to baptism: Faith communities collaborate to baptize man suffering from COVID-19

Lindsay Steele
Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, talks to David Sloat before Mass on March 9 at Lutheran Living Senior Campus in Muscatine. The facility has since been closed to visitors in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

MUSCATINE — Faced with the implications of a positive COVID-19 test, David Sloat sat in the quarantine unit of Lutheran Living Senior Campus as Chaplain Susan Bantz, a Lutheran minister, prepared to baptize him.
Two of David’s sisters and one brother-in-law stood outside, looking in through the window. Rev. Bantz connected them to a conference call on her phone so they could listen to the rite.   Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, joined the call from her home in Muscatine. She directs the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) for Ss. Mary & Muscatine Parish in Muscatine. David is one of her participants.

The emergency baptism wasn’t what David imagined when he decided to join the Catholic Church. It was a special moment, just the same. “I’m so happy. I’m so happy,” he gushed through the phone to Sister Cheryl after being baptized April 30.

Going to the peripheries

David, 61, injured his spine in a fall at his Florida home four years ago and lost the ability to walk and experiences weakness in his hands. The Iowa native moved to Muscatine after the accident to be closer to family. He became reacquainted with an old friend, Mark Flanders, a Ss. Mary & Mathias parishioner who helps out with monthly Mass at the Lutheran home. David, who grew up Baptist but left the faith as a young adult, accepted Mark’s invitation to go to Mass. From his seat in the back row, David developed a desire to participate. “I felt God all over me. It was just wonderful,” David said.

He wanted to become Catholic, but his health prevented him from attending RCIA classes at Ss. Mary & Mathias. So, Sister Cheryl came to him, offering in-person instruction weekly. Mark became David’s sponsor. “We never talked about God before,” Mark said. “It was great to hear him say, ‘I want this.’”

Sister Cheryl said that as David’s faith and knowledge of the Catholic Church grew, nursing home staff noticed him grow calmer and more patient, especially in relation to his physical limitations. David said his relationship with God “gives me peace of mind. In my heart I know that I have him on my side every minute of every day.”

Easter sacraments postponed

Father Troy Richmond, pastor of Ss. Mary & Mathias and of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction, celebrated the Rite of Election for David during Mass on March 9 at the Lutheran home. David said then, “It took getting hurt to get here (but) I’m so excited. I’m closer to God than I’ve ever been in my life.”

He was to receive the sacraments of initiation in the Lutheran home’s chapel during Mass after the Easter Vigil and anticipated that it would be “one of the biggest, most exciting things in my life.” However, the COVID-19 pandemic put a kink in those plans. To protect the faithful and to slow the spread of the virus, the Diocese of Davenport temporarily closed churches and postponed administration of the Easter sacraments. Assisted living facilities, such as the Lutheran home, began restricting visitors as a safety precaution.

Emergency baptism

In April, David tested positive for COVID-19. His family feared he would not survive because of his health issues. David wanted to be baptized as soon as possible, but because of visitor restrictions, the priest designated for ministry to those with COVID-19 could not enter the building. A special provision allowed David to be baptized by the Lutheran home’s chaplain. Deacon Frank Agnoli, diocesan director of liturgy, said, “In an emergency, as long as water is poured and the name of the Trinity invoked, anyone who has the intention to baptize may baptize. His condition put him in danger of death, so that provision was invoked. … His desire was to be a Catholic so he is a Catholic.”

Wearing a mask, goggles, face shield, gown and gloves over her clerical garments, Rev. Susan made the most of the resources she had in the quarantine unit. “I covered David with a white towel in lieu of a baptismal garment. Normally, I would have lit candles and had a baptismal font, but neither of those was possible, so I utilized a battery-operated candle and placed the water into an extra Communion chalice. Those on the phone made the responses of the congregation and David was able to make his own responses.”

Sister Cheryl participated in David’s baptism from her kitchen table in an effort to shield herself from possible COVID-19 exposure. “As I listened to David being baptized, the tears were running down my face. I was so sad that I couldn’t be with him but so overjoyed that he was able to be baptized a Catholic.”

Rev. Susan said she was honored to have the opportunity to baptize David. “I have baptized others who came from different faith professions, but in the end we are all Christians together. At one time, baptismal practices divided us, but more and more mainline Christian denominations are recognizing one another’s baptisms as valid, reflecting our common profession of faith as stated in the Nicene Creed, ‘we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.’”

Hope for the future

At press time, Sister Cheryl said David was “still doing okay” in his battle with COVID-19.  Deacon Agnoli said, “If all goes well, he will be confirmed and receive Eucharist when we can gather again.” Just as David hopes to walk again someday, he also hopes to be fully initiated into the Catholic Church.


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