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Church’s Baptismal Service Won’t Be Soon Forgotten

I pride myself on my ecumenical mindset and my desire to move beyond denominational boundaries.

When it comes to baptisms, however, I am Baptist with a capital B.

I love the aura of excitement in the congregation before and during the baptism service.

This palpable energy wells up not only in the candidates, but also in all of those present, as we are all reminded of the promise and proclamation each one of us made when we entered the waters ourselves.

When Martin Luther was struggling with some issue or problem in his life, it is said that he would proclaim, “I am baptized!”

Baptism for Luther was more than a public ritual; it gave shape and structure to the kind of person he was called to be. The act of remembering provided the holy foundation for whatever trial he was facing.

Then and now, there is power in baptism long after the water is drained. Remember your baptism.

I was discussing my affinity for baptisms with my associate pastor, Olivia Dawson, as we walked into the church together on the morning of our most recent baptism.

That day, we would baptize two teenage sisters who had made professions of faith and were eager to enter the waters.

I was saying to Olivia that the sanctuary even smells different with the baptistery full of water. As we entered the sanctuary, though, we both stopped and stood silently. The room didn’t smell any different.

Without saying anything, we both walked quickly up to check on the baptistery. No water. A miscommunication caused the person responsible for filling the baptistery to miss preparing it that weekend.

Because this had never happened before in anyone’s memory, we didn’t have a backup plan in place. Olivia and I looked at each other and asked, “Can we do this?”

We knew that we faced several immediate obstacles. There were several inches of snow on the ground and a forecast with a high in the 20s that morning, so any notion of an outdoor baptism was off the table.

If we were going to do it, it was going to happen here in the sanctuary.

Once we finally got the water going, we feared that even if the water had time to fill to the appropriate level, the heater wouldn’t be able to bring the temperature up sufficiently. Olivia and I both agreed, however, that we had to try.

We grabbed anyone in the building we could find and tasked them with bringing warm water from any sink to dump in the baptistery. Thus began 90 minutes of the strangest, holiest spectacle our church has seen in a long time.

As unsuspecting church members walked into the building thinking they were about to enjoy worship and our weekly doughnut holes and cheese balls, each one was conscripted into our makeshift baptism parade.

If you stood in the sanctuary that morning before worship, you would have seen deacons carrying the church softball team’s Gatorade coolers, greeters and teachers using buckets and pots from the kitchen, and even children and youth finding whatever container they could carry to assist in filling the baptistery.

Ever so slowly, the water began to rise.

Our next obstacle occurred when we ran out of hot water in the building. Before Olivia or I even knew about it, though, others had begun boiling water in whatever pot was not already in use.

When the two teenagers arrived, we explained the situation to them and they both agreed that they still wanted to continue with the baptisms. I was grateful for that. I was also grateful that they had asked Olivia to baptize them that morning.

Throughout the morning and even into the prelude before worship, people continued to bring bucket after bucket, adding bit by bit to the pool.

After all of that work by so many people, Olivia waded into the water and baptized two excited young ladies as our congregation watched and celebrated.

Each one let out a cry of surprise when they came back up out of the water. Perhaps it was the sudden outpouring of God’s Spirit or the briskness of the water or a little of both.

Later in the service, I looked at the two students and said, “You both will never forget your baptisms, and neither will we.”

On this day, the whole church family came together to baptize two young ladies, initiating them and welcoming them into the family of faith.

No matter the troubles and trials that come your way, remember your baptism, and all the brothers and sisters who baptized you, Gatorade buckets and all.

Patrick DeVane serves as senior pastor of College Parkway Baptist Church in Arnold, Maryland.