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Father Timothy Foy, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Guildahaus, took the polar plunge at Veterans Memorial Park in Union on Jan. 9.
Father Timothy Foy, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Guildahaus, took the polar plunge at Veterans Memorial Park in Union on Jan. 9.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Parishioners polar plunge for unity

St. John the Baptist fundraiser reminds parish of unity with Jesus through baptism

When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, biblical scholars will agree — He definitely did not do it as a polar plunge.

But members of St. John the Baptist Parish in Gildehaus did a polar plunge as a reminder of their own baptism and the Lord’s baptism, and to come together as a parish community during a pandemic.

About two dozen people took the plunge on an overcast morning, Jan. 9 at Veterans Memorial Park in Union. The temperature was 30 degrees, but participants didn’t seem to care, as they got down to T-shirts and shorts — some even going without socks and shoes — to plunge into the muddy pond.

With winter activities canceled at the parish, pastor Father Timothy Foy considered other ideas to bring together the community in a safe way. Father Foy had done a polar plunge sponsored by a Christian radio station a year ago. He thought, why not host a similar activity, timed to the feast of the Baptism of the Lord celebrated Jan. 10. With the parish being named St. John the Baptist — well, it all came together perfectly.

Proceeds from the registration benefited the parish’s Helping Hands ministry, which provides food and financial assistance with utilities to people in need in the community. Members of the Legion of Mary coordinated logistics for the

Nathan Bargen and his mother, Brenda Bargen, were among parishioners to take the polar plunge at Veterans Memorial Park in Union.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
day, with commemorative T-shirts given to all who registered.

The event was an opportunity to bring people together as a reminder that they are all members of the Body of Christ — and for some frigid fun, Father Foy said.

“The events of Christ’s life are extended to us,” such as baptism, he said. “It’s important that we are renewing that relationship to Christ, and entering to an awakening helps identify ourselves as united with Him. We’re not just individuals with an individual religion — we’re all members of the Body of Christ.”

Reading from the Gospel of John prior to the plunge, Father Foy stressed that the event was not to be a renewal of baptismal vows (“It was fully completed at your baptism, at my baptism,” he said.) but as a way to reflect on Jesus’ life, and how He humbled Himself to be with us, through our mutual baptism.

“His desire was so great to be with us,” he said. “In our baptism, God freed us from the power of sin and from the bonds of original sin, any personal sin. We are reunited with the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The unconquerable love of God came present into our hearts at baptism — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

St. Paul said that we die with Christ and rise with Him into new life through our baptism, he continued. “We’re grafted onto the spotless humanity of Christ — He’s the vine, we’re the branches. He made it possible, with this feast, where He got baptized in His own washing by St. John. But He didn’t have to do that. He chose to manifest the truth that God is His Father. And we can also understand that we are to be the children of God.”

Brenda Bargen and her son, Nathan, 23, took the plunge together. This was the first time in a long time that Bargen had been in person with fellow parishioners. As a nurse at Mercy Hospital in Washington, Bargen has stayed away from public gatherings due to her potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus. She recently had a gap away from patients in which it was deemed safe for her to attend the plunge.

“It was freezing — I don’t know that I’ll do it again,” she said with a laugh.

Nathan Bargen participated in another polar plunge a couple of years ago. He said this one was more meaningful, coming together with his parish. “I thought it was good to get people into the right mindset to make this a more impactful experience,” he said.

Kate Schroeder and two others served as lifeguards, along with assistance from the Union Fire Department. Schroeder, who had participated in a polar plunge two years ago in the same pond, said the key to a successful plunge is to run straight into the water, turn around and run right back out. And don’t get bogged down by wearing too many clothes.

“You just run straight out,” said Schroeder, a member of Immaculate Conception in Union. “It’s muddy. You get stuck. People are going to lose shoes — if they go all the way in. And have warm clothes on hand.”

Kim Jacquin wasn’t able to take the plunge due to recent surgery but instead helped other members of the Legion of Mary to coordinate registration. She recently witnessed a baptism and said it reminded her of our connection to the Lord through His own baptism.

“Life is kind of tough right now, and we know God is our savior,” he said. “He’s worth the cold.”

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

We recently celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Sunday, Jan. 10, remembering the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Jesus was born without sin, so He did not need to be baptized. But He did so, and thus marked the beginning of His public ministry, that He could be identified with the sinners whom He had come to save.

The Gospel of Matthew recounts the moment of His baptism: “After Jesus was baptized, He came from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for Him), and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon Him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17).

Jesus welcomes His own baptism as an example for the rest of us. He is God’s Son, the living presence of God, in human flesh, on earth. When we renew our baptismal promises, we proclaim our belief in the waters of baptism and our new and ongoing life in Christ. The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity: who we are and whose we are; and mission: to live as children of God and to live a Christian life as co-creators with God in building up the Kingdom of God on earth.

Further reading from Vatican News: bit.ly/2XmICcP

Readings from Jan. 10, the Baptism of the Lord: bit.ly/3hWJAG5

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