There are a lot of people, I imagine, with baptism stories they could tell. I know I have my own, which I wrote into a little “creative non-fiction” piece years ago and submitted to the North Carolina Writers Network. It earned third place, but what impressed me the most was, not the $50 prize money, but the fact that the final reader and judge was John Berendt, the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. To this day I feel good that an author of Mr. Berendt’s talent actually read something I wrote and chose me third place winner out of several hundred entries. I entered at the urging of a columnist friend of mine at the time, Ina Hughs, of A Prayer for Children fame in the 1990s, not even expecting to place since the deadline was only a day or two away.
But today, I am featuring a sort of baptism story by One of the Nine, an uncle who co-wrote a weekly column for the Free Press in central Florida back in the mid 1980’s with another of his 9 brothers. They called their column “Looking Back.” This story appeared December 11, 1986. Again, as much as I was itchin’ to edit and fine tune, I mostly resisted the effort and present the story as he wrote it.
******************************************************** I have a friend that lives in the mountains of North Carolina who is a preacher. This is the story he told me a few years ago. As he pastored in a little mountain church he saw many people saved and have their lives changed, but the little church didn’t really begin to grow until a strange thing happened.
You see, each time they had a baptism in the church, they had to go to the little mountain creek to baptise. After he was at the church for a few years, they decided to build a new, modern church with a baptistry, so they could baptise in the wintertime. To make the church really modern, they decided to put the baptistry pool under the stage where the pulpit stood. They would put a large trap door over the pool, and when they used it all they had to do was raise the door, and there was the pool ready for use.
After building the new modern church and the pool, they didn’t have enough money left to build dressing rooms, so they ran wires across the ceiling and hung curtains so when someone was baptized they could go behind the curtains and change clothes.
One Sunday after a great revival, there were three people to be baptized, two men, and a rather large woman. Now the little church was packed to see Sister Lucy and the others be baptized. The men decided to be baptized first, because Sister Lucy was afraid of the water, and she was afraid the preacher may drop her.
After the two men were baptized, they were behind the curtain and began to change into dry clothing. The preacher led the large lady into the pool very carefully, and as he lowered her into the water she panicked and caused the preacher to fall. As he fell he reached for something to catch onto in order to keep from going under the water. All he could reach was the curtain behind which the two men were dressing.
As he fell and pulled the curtain, the wire that held it broke, and down it came. There stood two naked and very startled men before a large congregation of people. When they saw what happened, they dived into the pool with the preacher and the lady.
The preacher and the woman were doing all the could to keep from going under, and the two naked men were doing all they could to stay under the water. This preacher friend of mine says that now, whenever the congregation begins to fall off, he announces he is going to have a baptism next Sunday and the church will be packed out. It’s funny what a little excitement can do, isn’t it?
Postscript: The incident described most likely took place sometime in the 1960’s. When I was baptised, sometime around 1949 or 1950, the country Baptist and the fundamentalist churches were still baptizing in rivers. I remember the preacher saying some sort of mumbo jumbo and lowering me face-up into the water. I’d been terrified to go under because I couldn’t swim and was very afraid of water, especially dark and murky river water. The one thing that worried me was the dress I wore into the river was one made from the printed sacks that chicken feed was sold in at the time, and which all the women I knew used to make dresses. The problem with it was that it was so heavy, nothing like the finely woven cottons of today, and it keep floating up higher and higher around me like a big fabric balloon, and I was so afraid people watching from the shore would be able to see my underpants. Any woman my age who grew up in the south knows what a faux pas that would have been!