So many funny things happen in church life, including things connected to the observance of baptism. My favorite baptism story has to do with baptizing a lady in her 70s.
She had come by my office a couple of weeks earlier, and I had the privilege of leading her to the Lord. That next Sunday, she came forward to make her decision public.
The appointed Sunday came. I had on my baptismal robes (that included waders underneath) and walked pastorally into the baptistery. I looked to where the candidate was waiting and made the pastoral motion for her to come into the water. So far, everything went as planned.
I introduced her to the congregation, reminded them of the lady’s salvation story, and asked her if she was saved. She responded. I asked her to cover her nose with her right hand and hold her right wrist with her left hand. So far, everything went as planned.
I placed my right hand on her back and took hold of her hands and started to lean her back into the water when, with her right hand still pinching off her nose, she said, “Oh, my back.” Somehow, I had forgot she mentioned she had a bad back. In my best pastoral voice, I said to her, “It will be fine. Just relax.” I started a second time and again she said in a somewhat louder voice, “Oh, my back!”
We tried one more time when I realized I was not going to be able to lean her back into the water. So, I began to think about what options I had. One of the first things I thought of is I could take my left foot and sweep her legs out from under her. But then I thought if I tried a leg sweep and was unsuccessful, she might try to leg sweep me or poke me in the nose.
Then I got it. I thought if I could get her to hunker down, I could get her low enough that I could throw enough water on her for it to count as a baptism (or at least a Methodist baptism). And if she would stay hunkered down long enough, I could get enough water on her to satisfy most Baptists.
I said, “Hunker down.” She turned to look at me—her right hand still pinching her nose—and asked, “What?” So, I repeated myself, “Hunker down” a little louder than the first time. She asked, “What?” And this time I said loudly, “Hunker down.”
Back where I grew up, hunker down meant you just sort of bent your knees and got as low as you could. I am not sure where this lady grew up but hunker down had a completely different meaning to her. She bent over at the waist, got her face in the water with her right hand pinching her nose and made a motorboat noise.
After what seemed like 10 minutes of motorboat noises, she stood right up with the most pleased look on her face. Obviously, her bad back issues only kicked in when she was going backward not forward.
All I could to do at that moment was to say, “All God’s people said…” Thankfully, all the congregation could do was to respond with “Amen.” I never did get that lady all the way under the water, but we counted it anyway.
Not long after that we posted signs in the baptism dressing rooms about no motorboat noises in the baptistery.
Let me leave you with a couple of thoughts. One, nothing beats seeing someone getting saved. Two, it is always exciting to see someone who got saved, get baptized. Three, total immersion is a Scriptural model for baptism, but I sure hope the Lord let that one count. Last, if you need to use technical baptism terms like “Hunker down,” make sure the baptism candidate knows what you mean.