When I was in the sixth grade, while eleven years old, in the fall of the year, my younger sister Patty told my mother that she wanted to be baptized. In a Church of Christ environment such a request was not unusual . . .
Except that about three years earlier I had asked and then been questioned extensively by my mother, questions I don’t remember at all, but I remember feeling quite defeated at not knowing what she wanted me to answer. I just had this sense that God wanted me to be baptized along with a sense of doom if I wasn’t baptized before I died. And, yes, this was something that I thought about. A lot. At least daily, but especially on Wednesday evenings after being reminded that the unbaptized go to hell which was the recurring theme of Wednesday evening prayer meetings. We had to cross railroad tracks, and I can remember plenty of nights praying we would safely cross so that I wouldn’t die and go to hell.
So my sister made the request of my mother that she be baptized. Mom thought it was a great idea. Then she came to me and asked me if I still wanted to be baptized.
Well, yes, Mom, I do — but mostly now I want it so I won’t be constantly afraid of hell fire. I don’t have all that warm feeling I once had about it.
We marched down the aisle of the church on Sunday morning. I was leading the way. My Dad had preached that day (he had a full time job as an accountant, but he did preach part-time) so he was waiting for us as we answered the altar call. Of course it wasn’t called an altar call because we didn’t use the term altar to refer to the table from which Holy Communion was served. Oh, that’s another thing: we called it The Lord’s Supper.
Daddy asked us if we believed. I said yes in a trembling voice. I don’t even remember what Patty said. Then we headed to the restroom/dressing room at the front where we were told to disrobe completely. We were given white cotton gowns that wound around our bodies, making walking very difficult. These women giving instructions about the dressing were crying by now, leading us toward the baptistry.
I went in first. I was glad my Dad was in there ahead of me. He held me firmly but gently and saying the Trinitarian formula brought me under and back up out of the water. The crying was even louder as we re-dressed. Then we stepped out into the auditorium (not called a Sanctuary) and the crying and hugging seemed excessive. I found the responses unsettling. I was not sure I had felt something I was supposed to feel – – – I certainly didn’t feel like crying! I just wanted to get away.
Later I did feel relieved as I realized I wasn’t automatically condemned as an un-baptized person.
Much, much later I learned about grace. Now that is what I think about when I consider it all. God working in my life ahead of what I knew or understood, making an impression on me that keeps me so very aware of grace after all the fear of childhood. God is so good!!!