I currently am serving a year-long pastoral residency at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as a student chaplain. A chaplain residency is a one-year position designed to give student chaplains a taste of full-time hospital chaplaincy with patients and families, under supervision and mentorship by other chaplains. I am assigned to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and the Third Floor.
When I visit patients, I seek to instill hope in the patients and parents and to nurture faith in a God who hasn’t forgotten them in the wilderness of hospital hallways, questions and waiting. And when I visit, I always wear a tutu.
The day my pastoral authority became my own is one I will remember forever, with fondness, gratitude, and delight. It was poignant and touching, revealing and affirming, playful and reverent, and holy; a day of illumination.
I was paged to the room of a mother who had recently lost her husband. She told me that she did not have a church home but recognized a divine presence in her life. She asked me to baptize her baby, who was being discharged from the hospital that day. I quickly tailored a service just for her and headed off to the chapel closet to get the baptismal shell and fill it with sterile water. As we began the service, the social worker, several nurses, and the respiratory therapist gathered with us.
In a mother’s simple request for baptism, she found peace, acceptance, God’s love, and illumination for God gifted her with an extraordinary little community of faith to share in her delight. But for me, I had gotten so caught up in the service planning that I had forgotten that I was wearing my tutu. I had wrestled with taking it off before the service or leaving it on, and just ran out of time to decide, so it stayed on by default. And, somewhere between the wrestling with including this kind of playful imagination in my practice and the sacrament of baptism, my tutu became more than a visiting prop. It became a vestment: a representation of my authority as a creative being, called and crafted by a creative God to minister God’s creative imagination and care to others. My tutu became a sacred vehicle that allowed me to connect with the innocence of children and help parents see in their children the playfulness that is too often buried somewhere in the hospital gowns, blankets, and tubes. My tutu vestment gave me a way of helping them find meaning, purpose, illumination, in this particular time and space.