Sunday evening, after an amazing day of worship and celebration (see “Confirmation: day one of a new adventure with Jesus!“), we returned to church for the youth spaghetti dinner and talent show mission fundraiser. I had been asked to do a storytelling piece, so I shared one from growing up in the U.K. Several people have asked for a copy, so here it is, pretty much verbatim:
The Day I Helped a Baptist Preacher Recover His (lost) Dunking Mojo:
There are three kinds of stories I tell that people seem to like the best:
- Stories about the dog
- Stories about Rebekah
- Stories about growing up in England
This is one from growing up. As a child, I was raised in the classically English faith community known as Folkestone Baptist Church, on the South Coast of England where – on a clear day – you could see the coast of France from the front steps.
Folkestone Baptist was populated by some wonderful people, a whole caste of memorable characters. Among them were:
- Mr May – who was deaf and didn’t mind reminding anyone about it at any time during the service, “I CAN’T UNDERSTAND A THING… I’M DEAF YOU KNOW…”
- Mrs. Moncrieff – whose husband had once been the mayor. She wore hats you could have raised a vegetable garden in… or chickens… maybe both.
- The Clough family – who always came in late, and stomped interminably around the entire balcony to their favorite pew.
- Mr. Tea and Mr. Waskitt – who – along with my dad – were known to nod off occasionally during the sermon.
- Mr. Pike – the preacher – He was a wonderful man, but his chief concern in life – and in church – seemed to be circumventing change of any kind, dodging controversy, and avoiding embarrassment. In this story he has to deal with all three.
I loved going to church, especially Sunday evenings, when the dying sun would illuminate the sanctuary with a gentle light. I can still hear the sound of hymns such as
- “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide…”
- “Now the Day is Over…” and – my favorite –
- “The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended, the darkness falls at thy behest….”
The sanctuary was a stately old building, with a balcony that ran three sides, a tall pulpit turret my mother always described as “six feet above contradiction,” noisy wooden floors, and umbrella stands at the end of every pew, featuring porcelain trays to catch the rain as it ran off the brollies.
Sunday evenings the youth would all sit together in the farthest reaches of the nether regions of the balcony, pretending to try so hard to behave ourselves, yet somehow always managing to drop coins or a hymnbook, or catch our heels on the long thin wooden braces on the underside of the pew (the sound would reverberate forever), and fall victim to “the look” from one of the deacons, resulting in muffled giggles – the kind that spread like wildfire among teenagers, become inextinguishable, and lead to held breath and consequent snorting during sermons and pastoral prayers.
Unlike American churches, where baptismal pools are tucked discretely behind curtained windows featuring painted backdrops of the River Jordan, ours was directly in front of the pulpit and immediately beneath the choir. All that protected the entire chorus from an unscheduled soaking were the removable floorboards, and – during particularly painful anthems – I found myself dreaming of them all disappearing into the abyss. I’d sit in the balcony willing it to happen.
Around the age of fourteen, I attended a Billy Graham rally in London, where I finally understood that the God I had known and loved all my life was interested in a more personal commitment. So I responded to the altar call, had a serious talk with the counselor (I still remember his name, Norman Lynn) and made arrangements with my pastor in Folkestone to take the “Enquirers Class” and get baptized.
It was much the same commitment as so many of our young people made at confirmation this morning.
The Set Up:
So one Sunday, a couple of weeks before my scheduled baptism, Mr. Pike stood in the pool with someone we’ll call “Mary.” Mary was a substantial person who likely weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 pounds. At the same time, Mr. Pike was advancing in age, and he wasn’t exactly the kind of guy you’d see pumping iron at the gym. To say he was outmatched would be a significant understatement.
Anyway, long story short, when the moment arrived, Mr. Pike clasped Mary’s hands, placed one arm behind her back, and she surrendered all. Mary went back; Mr. Pike went back; there was a brief struggle as they hovered on the fulcrum, locked together on the precipice of disaster; and then – much to the delight of the youth group looking down from the balcony – both Mr. Pike and Mary disappeared beneath the water, and two sets of legs went right up in the air.
It was a beautiful moment. It was simply brilliant!
So a few days before my turn, I went to Mr. Pike and said I’d like to talk with him about the “mechanics” of the event.
“First, and on behalf of the youth, I’d just like to say thank you!” I started. “However, I do understand that that’s not a situation you’d like to see repeated. So I have a plan: If you’re willing, then I’d like to be baptized kneeling down. It’s a very appropriate posture, and you wouldn’t be carrying any weight during the immersion.”
Like I said earlier, Mr. Pike did not like change, and he was nowhere near a fan of coloring outside the lines. But the prospect of avoiding another event like what had come to be known as, “The underwater threshing machine incident”…? – Well, of course he jumped at the chance.
And so, on Easter Sunday in 1971, along with two of my friends and a young couple new to our church, I entered the waters of baptism. And – beginning a practice that my pastor embraced from that day forward, I went down into the water (and came back up quite easily) from a kneeling position.
I had given my life to Jesus – no looking back, no second guessing, no turning around – and I wanted the whole world to know the decision I had made…
It’s a decision that I continue to make every new day of my life. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit….
here are a few pics from the show: