Mike getting into position to baptize Lynn

Baptizing Someone Immobile

At Home

What’s the Process to Baptism Someone Immobile at Home?

Last year, my husband asked me to help him arrange a baptism ceremony at our home.  Though baptized as a child, he wanted to supplement his childhood understanding with a reaffirmation of adult faith. Lynn has Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS).  As his condition progressed rapidly in 2006 from the ability to walk to relying on a wheelchair, the reliance on his faith grew. While adjusting to his diagnosis, his relationship with Christ and God provided a daily dose of strength and peace to his soul. He wanted to acknowledge that change to those who knew him by asking them to witness his rebaptism. He asked for my help, and of course, I agreed. Then reality hit— what is the process for baptizing someone immobile at home?

2019 Baptism Plans Cancelled 

While I knew the task would be challenging, I also knew that nothing was too big for God, and He would provide us with the answers. Initially, we planned to put something together for 2019.  We scheduled a gathering, had food prepared, set up tables, had everything ready to go when Lynn fell ill.  Though his illness was short-term, the timing of his recovery took us into the cooler weeks of fall.  In considering a date in later October, I had several concerns. As with many MS patients, his body does not self-regulate to temperate changes. With his recent illness, I felt that the outside temperature was too low for him to be wet for an extended period. I had to consider the risk of his body temperature dropping so low that I would not be able to raise it quickly enough to prevent a trip to the hospital.

First Plan Considered – Board on Foundation

Though disappointed we had to cancel last year, I felt relief in many ways. I needed the additional time to consider other options for baptizing. I was not satisfied with the plan we decided to use for immersion. The only idea I had last year involved using a combination of a shower bench and chair of the same height as a foundation for holding Lynn’s body weight while in the pool. On top of the foundation, I planned to place a slider board. I would transfer him from his wheelchair to the slider board, where he would lie until the baptism. The slider board had handles that several of us could use to lift the board plus Lynn off the foundation.  Once the paster gave the word, we could lower Lynn into the pool for immersion to complete the baptism.

Safety Concerns with First Plan 

However, I was concerned about the safety of this process.

(1) Too many people in a small area in water increases the risk of someone falling.  If one person falls, then all may go down like a stack of dominos. If everyone falls, the group will drop Lynn, and he will roll off the board, into the water, and submerge. Since he could not help himself, he might drown before anyone could help him get his head above water.

(2) We might drop him into the pool and not be able to get him out soon enough to prevent a significant decrease in body temperature.  If we dropped only him (i.e., we didn’t fall), one of us would be able to keep his head above water.  Therefore, the risk of drowning is not present. However, MS patients don’t self-regulate body temperature. Their internal temperature takes on the temperature of their surroundings. If we left Lynn in a cold pool too long, he might become hypothermic, causing his heartbeat to be irregular.  An irregular heartbeat can lead to heart damage.

     Both reasons needed consideration, although neither was likely to occur.  As a caregiver, Lynn’s safety is my responsibility.  I must make sure that whatever I plan or allow provides for his safety, and I take that responsibility seriously.  Since it was mid-October when we canceled last year, we had plenty of time to think about an alternative.

Coronavirus Hits

Then, the Coronavirus hit. Everything changed for everybody. No longer could we invite guests to the baptism.  We were not even sure that we could have anyone come over to assist us with having one! Therefore, we didn’t seriously make plans for several months until most of the summer was gone. When churches reopened, we asked our former associate paster who lived nearby to conduct the service for us. He and his wife graciously agreed to help us.  My daughter, who is also a nurse, agreed to help.  She has a child with a medical condition that does not self-regulate his body’s temperature. Therefore, she is familiar with strategies for dealing with hypothermia.  Besides, she knows how to use our patient lift, which will now play a key role in the day’s activities.

Baptism New Risks and Challenges

From Fall 2019 to Fall 2020, the risks and challenges completely changed for having an outdoor baptism.

    • No longer would I have lots of people to help lift.
    • Anyone who came was a potential carrier for COVID.
    • Again, we had waited until the last minute hoping for a different outcome, so our window of opportunity before the temperature became too cold to have the service was small.
    • Each person selected to participate was essential. If any of them developed the sniffles or could not participate for any reason, it meant canceling the event again.
Multiple Obstacles Tried to Stop Us

We were determined to move forward with this baptism.  Many obstacles continued to get in the way; however, a hurricane with lots of rain, Lynn got sick, a wave of very cold temperatures, and some of our required participants became unavailable. However, we never gave up. Right up to the last few minutes before the baptism, I wasn’t sure it would happen. Minutes before the event, Lynn suddenly felt like he might have to go to the bathroom.  An unexpected trip to the bathroom for us can mean as much as an hour or an hour and a half delay. Therefore, we would send people home rather than have them wait.

Right after Lynn started feeling better, a lizard ran into the house. You can’t make this stuff up!  We knew we had to find it and get it out before losing track of it. Lynn’s caregiver strongly dislikes reptiles. Therefore, the chase was on to find and get him out. After moving furniture, catching him, and the critter escaping twice, our heroic hunters successfully caught him in their hands. Using cardboard to slide under a cup to create a trap of sorts, his captor carried him in their hands, releasing him at a safe distance from the back door.

Ready    Set    Baptize

Crisis averted, Lynn was ready, everyone was present, and the time was right for the baptism to begin. With God’s help, we had the perfect solution for baptizing someone completely immobile in a pool on their back deck. Here’s how we did it.

How to Baptize Someone Immobile on Your Back Deck 
  1. Buy a small inflatable pool – The one I bought was 43 inches x 61 inches x 18 inches.
  2. Purchase 1- ¾ in. a piece of plywood and (2) 8-foot length 2-in x 6 in pieces of pressure-treated lumber with severe weather grading.
  3. Cut the lumber in half (4-ft sections). Underneath the platform, attach one piece in the center, one on each end, and one just to the outside of the point where the legs of the medical equipment used to transport Lynn will expand.
  4. Inflate the pool and fill it with warm water. Wrap the pool with a tarp or pool cover to keep the water warm.
  5. Confirm no COVID exposure with guests and that they will wear masks.
  6. Assemble towels and wraps for use after immersion and place close to the pool.
  7. Cover the back of the wheelchair with a raincoat and put a spare cushion in place of the usual wheelchair seat.
  8. Using a hydrolytic lift assembly, put your family member into the accompanying sling and put them into the wheelchair with the sling in place dressed for immersion.
  9. Go to the poolside and follow along with the lift. Once at the pool, use the lift to move your family member from the wheelchair to the pool. The lift’s legs will slip under the platform to allow you to position the sling over the pool. Then you can lower your family member to just above the water.
  10. The minister can perform the service. As he/she starts to baptize, lower the sling slightly to help with the immersion and then immediately start to pump it back up. Lift out of water allowing the water to drain from the sling while you move toward the wheelchair.
  11. Wrap your family member in blankets to keep warm. Take promptly inside if beginning to lose body heat. A hot shower may be beneficial or using towels from the dryer.

Using this method worked great!  With a bit of creativity, the support of a dedicated small group, and a lot of help from God, Lynn’s baptism occurred in safety and without COVID exposure.  When God’s people call upon His name for help, anything is possible.

Sarah, Lynn, Donna, Mike Bowes
Sarah, Lynn, Donna, Mike Bowes after baptism
Waiting to be baptized.
Waiting to be baptized.
Mike helping to position Lynn over pool .
Mike helping to position Lynn over pool.
Lowering Lynn into pool for baptism
Lowering Lynn into pool for baptism
Mike getting into position to baptize Lynn
Mike getting into position to baptize Lynn
Lynn after baptism
Lynn after baptism