Can I tell you about the first time I dunked someone in the baptismal waters? The church of my baptism would ordain anything willing, and I was. I was licensed to preach in 1976 and ordained in 1978. Barely out of High School, I was serving as the associate pastor of a church. It was a Sunday night and the minister wanted to give the neophyte associate minister baptism experience. I was very excited about my first baptism. Clergy do have a low threshold of whoopee.
The candidate was a young man named Henry Dale. He was a part of our youth group and I had prayed with him that morning at the altar as he gave his life to Christ.
The church had a baptistry behind the choir loft. I put on the sacred duck waders and the robe the minister wore to hide the sacred waders from the congregation. Clearing my throat loud enough for the choir director to hear, the switches on the curtains and the lights were flipped. There I stood in the lit baptistery. The only light in the whole sanctuary emanated from pool holding the waters of baptism. I was thinking that I certainly must look wise and dignified standing there. It was a very satisfying moment for a novice minister.
I reached out my hand signaling Henry Dale to enter the waters of life. As we stood waist deep in the baptistry, I discovered something about Henry Dale. I should have known given the history I had with the Senior minister. I was not being given an opportunity. I was handling a problem. Henry Dale was terrified of water.
I moved Henry Dale into place. Made sure his feet were properly placed in the anti-feet-floating-box hidden in many baptistries. I spoke the words of the ritual.
“Henry Dale, I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
I placed one hand on his neck and the other on his hands clasped reverently in front of him. I started to put him under. As I leaned him back, he slipped one foot out of the anti-feet-floating-box. His legs were now in the scissors position. I was pushing and he was pushing back. At that time, I was a legalist. I knew that all of Henry Dale had to go under or his soul would burn in not properly baptized hell. So I lifted my left leg up and with my left knee caught him in the chest and powered him under.
He came up spitting and coughing, but he was properly baptized.
You know when you bend down into the water with duck waders, they will fill up on you. Those suckers are heavy filled with water. Another insightful moment came with the realization that the choir was already baptized, and they were not overjoyed by all the water that splashed on them during that baptismal debacle. The baptistry is not a very good wave pool and water will slosh into the choir loft in copious amounts.
I was told to hurry back into the sanctuary. My duty was the concluding prayer. I was walking around with water in my waders. It necessitated a trip outside to get out of the waders. Then I rushed back into the sanctuary to face the music at the end of the service. There I stood in my soaked suit pants, muddy socks, and wet dress shirt with the still trembling Henry Dale. He had a change of clothes with him. He was dry. I was all wet.
I’m thankful that Jesus doesn’t count style points.