Friday, March 28, 2014
FIRST BAPTISM - BE PREPARED, BUT EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED by Alan Reynolds
Most newly-ordained ministers are familiar with the horror stories of other newly-ordained ministers whose first wedding, baptism or funeral had been something of a disaster. I was newly ordained and new to the congregation. I was determined that my first baptism would not be remembered for my fumbles and botches. I prepared thoroughly. I memorized the baptismal service and considered every move that I would make.
The little village of Waterford sits amid the hills of southern New Brunswick in a beautiful valley where two streams join. The Waterford United Church sits on a knoll of solid rock in the midst of the village. It is a well-proportioned church with a high steeple, “beautiful on Mount Zion.” The entrance was at the front of the sanctuary, resulting in some embarrassment for visitors arriving late and on entering, finding the whole congregation looking at them.
On this particular Sunday morning, two baby boys were to be baptized. All was going well and we were singing the baptismal hymn, when I looked down from the pulpit and realized that there was no baptismal font, no bowl, and no water. This was 1954, and the Waterford church, typical of country churches of the time, had no electricity, no running water, no kitchen – just sanctuary and vestry. What to do?
First, I remembered that there was a brook about fifty yards down the road. There was water. But the hymn would be finished before I could get there and back. Well, the congregation would just have to stand there and wait.
But what to carry the water in? An elder of the congregation lived next to the church, perhaps I could get a dish there. What if the house was locked? (They were all in church.) I would just have to take the chance. People in those days usually didn’t bother to lock doors.
I started for the door. As I came down from the pulpit platform, I noticed the wood stove used to heat the church in colder weather. I remembered that there was an old rusty tin can used in the winter to throw kerosene on the wood to get the fire started quickly. If the house was locked, I could get water in the kerosene can.
I went to the stove, got the kerosene can and started back for the door. All this seemed like an eternity in my own mind, but the congregation was still singing the baptismal hymn. As I got to the entry at the front of the church I noticed the flowers of the communion table. There was my water!
Going to the table, I poured water from the flowers into the rusty kerosene
can and turned to the congregation just as they were finishing the hymn.
The baptism proceeded without interruption.
Some twenty-five years later, I was invited back to this congregation for an anniversary service. I was extremely pleased (and maybe a bit relieved) to find that these baby boys, now young men, were both elders of the congregation. Water from the flowers in a rusty can, but I guess the baptism “took.”
Alan is the author of Reading the Bible for the Love of God, and A Troubled Faith: Affirming Christian Faith in the Twenty-first Century. Both books won awards from the Word Guild.
He lives in Richmond, B. C., and is still married (since 1962) to beautiful, blue-eyed Brenda. They enjoy great family times with four children and their spouses (all above average), and eight wonderful grandchildren.
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