July 21, 2017

Country Baptism

It was a typical August Sunday. Already hot when the sun came up. The drive out to the little white frame build- ing was uneventful. Someone had already opened all the windows and distributed the paper fans provided by the local funeral home. In those days there was almost always a noisy, rumbling window fan in one of the back windows. That was several years before air conditioning.

Attendance in worship was about 50. None of the men wore a coat and the only thing that distinguished the preacher was a necktie. And sometimes his tie came off too.

The sermon that morning was a study of: “The Corinthian Church.” When the invitation was extended, a young married couple came forward. We heard them confess their faith that Jesus is the son of God. We all rejoiced and there were the usual tears of joy by the parents of those about to become Christians.

When the service was dismissed, the brethren began to make plans to go to a member’s pond for the baptizing. As I remember there were only two church buildings with baptistries in the entire county. All of the country churches used rivers, creeks, lakes, and ponds year around. (Not bad in summer but bone chilling in winter.)

The church always used this brother’s pond and his wife kept an ample supply of all sizes of clothing both for men and women on hand for these occasions. Those about to be baptized would change clothing in the farmer’s bedrooms and then their clothing would be dry to wear home.

This was my first experience at this place and it left much to be desired. I led the young man out first. The bottom of the pond must have had at least four inches of thick, oozy, gooy mud. Each step was sloop, sloop, sloop, as one pulled his feet up and out of the mire for the next step. If that were not bad enough, the bottom of the pond was also covered with some kind of foot-high, grass-like vegetation. As you walked through that grass it felt like snakes must be swimming all around your legs.

We slugged our way out to a depth a little more than waist high, and there I baptized him. No problem! We made our way back to the bank, and the happy event was half over.

Now it was time to baptize the young lady. She was short and very, very heavy. It was immediately apparent that she was not accustomed to being in water such as this and with the mud and the water grass swirling around her legs, she was in fact terrified! With her weight and fear, I figured I needed more depth, so I led her out to where the water was pretty well up under her arm pits. Over and over I tried to calm and reassure her. I said what I had to say and proceeded to immerse her. As the water came up around her head and face, she panicked! It was obvious that if she could get out of my grasp she would head for the bank. I knew she really wanted to be baptized, but it occurred to me that as terrified as she was, if she got out of the water, it might be almost impossible to get her back. So, with one mighty thrust, I put her well down into the water! She came up like an explosion. It looked like she had at least three legs and four arms as she made for the shore.

As I remember, they did not bother to go in and change their clothes; they all jumped into their cars and sped away. That night none of them attended the service. I became a little uneasy. Were they all mad at me? Did they feel that I had mistreated her? The woman’s husband and father-in-law were pretty husky fellows. I weighed about 125 on a rainy day. Was I going to get whipped the next time we met?

No. It could not have worked out better. When they got home, they all agreed. Even though the lady had been terrified, she really wanted to be baptized. And, she had been. Mission accomplished. It was over. She was a Christian. She had obeyed the gospel and everyone was happy. Of course I knew nothing of their feelings.

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