Baptists believe in water. When it comes to baptizing, we don’t mess around with a few sprinkles. We put people under until they bubble. We want them to feel just a moment of panic, so they can appreciate resurrection.
I do admit there are times I envy my sprinkling brothers and sisters in the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Anglican circles. Like the time I baptized a fellow who was six foot seven in a baptistry that was six foot six inches long. I “clunked” his head into the wall. Later, I asked him how he felt. He said he felt like he’d finally gotten some sense knocked into him. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
Then there was the time I baptized a husband and wife. They wanted to be baptized together. I explained I could only do one at a time. They settled for being in the baptistry at the same time.
You may not remember this from physics class, but a solid object placed into water displaces the water in equal measure to the size of the object. Being pretty solid, I displace a fair amount of water. The candidates also displace water. Small children and petite adults are not a problem. In the case of this husband and wife, however, I was baptizing Goliath and his wife. He was about six feet, four inches and outweighed me by 50 pounds. She was six feet, one inch, and pregnant with twins. When I baptized them, it was like sitting in the splash zone at Sea World. The baptistry overflowed and everyone on the first three rows got soaked. After the service, one little boy excitedly asked if we could do the same thing next Sunday.
On this particular Sunday, I baptized three people – a brother and a sister, and a young woman. Seeing people go under the water and bringing them out again is my favorite thing to do in ministry. It signifies that a person has given their life to Jesus and they are willing to tell everyone what he has done for them.
When I baptize, I wear a pair of waders under my robe. This is so I can quickly get out of the baptistry and get ready for the next service. I had gotten all three candidates properly dunked, exited the baptistry, shucked off my robe, and unfastened my wader suspenders. Now came the tricky part. When you go into the water wearing waders, the water presses all the air out. Your legs and torso are vacuum sealed. This pair of waders was little harder to get off than the old pair, so I learned to ask for help.
We had a new volunteer helping that day, a young man who worked out regularly. On his bulging bicep, there was a tattoo that read “Killer.” I figured he was the guy to help me out. I leaned against the wall and extended my leg. “How about a hand?” I asked.
This strong young man grabbed my wader boot and tugged. I was trying to pull my leg up and out while he pulled the waders in the opposite direction. Nothing happened. We tried again. This time, the boot slipped out of his hands.
You could see Killer’s frustration. Here he was, trying to help his pastor and he was looking like a weakling. A weakling with big biceps and a tattoo, but still a weakling.
I extended my leg once more. He grabbed it, and like the cowboys holding onto a rope when bull-riding, he got a firm grip and had a far-away look. He really put his back into it. He pulled hard.
Have you ever had that moment when you know disaster is about to happen, but you can’t do a thing about it? I felt my planted foot, the one I was resting my weight on, start to slide on the slick tile. My fingers instantly dug for something to hold onto, but I was clawing drywall. I slide down the wall about two inches and then my foot, the one that was supposed to hold my weight, went airborne. Since my other foot was being pulled on by Samson, there was suddenly nothing but thin air between my bottom and the hard tile floor.
It was a classic cartoon moment. My feet went one way, and I went another. I could feel my spine draw up like an accordion. My helper, he of great strength, was still holding onto my wader boot. I am sorry to say, the ground shook right after my impact, not from my weight making an impact, but from the deep belly laughs of other volunteers and a certain minister (who may get marked down in his next evaluation based on his low empathy for his fallen pastor).
After the laughs were stifled, I was asked if I was hurt. I replied as any man would: “Of course not,” even though I had lost four inches of height. A chair was produced, and I sat down. A few more tugs and the waders were completely off, and I limped away from the baptistry.
Maybe when Jesus changes your life, you should be swept off your feet. Maybe taking the signs of faith is to be dramatic. Maybe laughter should accompany baptism, because God’s love is a gift of joy.
And maybe, just maybe, God lets preachers fall flat on their butt to keep them humble. Maybe even to bring them up a little short.
If anyone finds the four inches I lost, please return them to me. I now have several shirts and pants that no longer fit.