Dunking For The Lord: A New Name In Glory

The Musings of A Simple Country Man

By Hobie Morris

(Brookfield, NY) Members of the Baptist Church…on account of muddy roads the baptism…will be in Beaver Creek in the village instead of Gorton Lake. Brookfield Courier, Sept. 10, 1921.

On May 1 a very important ceremony took place in our venerable rural Madison County Baptist Church in the heart of bucolic, beautiful Central New York.  On a gorgeous Spring Sunday morning seven excited men and women were “fully immersed” in a lukewarm water filled baptistery.  When each beaming person emerged from the water a large warm Turkish towel was quickly wrapped around their dripping bodies.  Thunderous applause, clapping, whistling, shouting and appropriate organ music and candle lighting welcomed every person.

Our church has a fairly new baptistery in which our pastor stands next to the water container but on dry land.  With only his shirt sleeves rolled up, Pastor Mark carefully lowers backwards the candidate into the symbolically purifying water.

Thanks to careful planning the entire ceremony went flawlessly.  This was not always the case as you’ll later discover.  A lavish celebratory, delicious turkey dinner immediately followed the church service in the adjacent Fellowship Hall.

For over 200 years baptisms have been done in various ways and sometimes in unusual places throughout Madison County.  Its importance often a defining moment in a person’s spiritual life and journey.  It is also an important affirmation of the historic role that churches have played, and continue to play, in the life and times of this great country.

Brookfield’s Beaver Creek is a picturesque country stream that flows tranquilly from north to south along the village’s western edge.  In years past it was a popular and convenient spot to be baptized especially in a shallow spot just north of the county bridge.

The most recent baptism there that this simple country man can recall was performed several years ago by our then new Baptist pastor.

It was early summer.  Beaver Creek was swifter, deeper and colder than normal.  Pastor Mark, waist deep in icy water, immersed the young lady, made the appropriate comments and then headed for shore.  The girl, in tow, suddenly slipped on a submerged stone and fell from the pastor’s grasp.  Eventually, the safe shore (and dry towels) were reached.  I later came across an ad for “Baptismal Gloves” with rubberized tips so a “child (or adult) won’t squirt out of your pastor’s hands.”

Such a creek baptism of course requires appropriate clothes.   On one occasion a fidgety pastor impatiently waited for a candidate to get ready.  He asked a deacon for a hymn to fill in.  Without thinking the deacon sang a cappella an old familiar hymn “Pull For The Shore.”

This simple country man, and his lovely wife Lois, missed out on such exciting Baptist baptisms.  I was only a few days old, and not expected to live, when a Presbyterian minister sprinkled a few drops of water on my forehead—in a nice warm church.  Lois was similarly baptized as an infant in a small country Lutheran church in eastern South Dakota.

Baptism venues have varied tremendously:  in streams, ponds, lakes, backyard swimming pools—and yes eventually even in churches!

Our church’s baptistery is located, when not in use, directly under the choir loft.  A critical wag on several occasions has suggested a “disappearing choir” when the service’s music was less than inspirational!

This simple county man has the greatest admiration for the toughness of the early settlers and many of their contemporary descendents.  Baptisms were conducted in all four seasons.

In January, 1838 John Hibbard, for example, was baptized by Baptist Elder Holland Turner.  Chances are good that both the air and water were equally frigid!  Another early church member remembers over 40 people being baptized, also by Holland Turner.  (We hope not in winter.)  Records indicate that baptisms were done in a hand dug pool in a small stream close to the “first” First Baptist Church located two-and-a-half miles southeast of the later village and the present church’s location since 1827.

A local winter baptism story involved the candidate named “William.”  It was a very cold day.  As William came sputtering out of the water one of his friends asked him if the water was cold.  “No, not a bit” answered Bill.  To that the pastor said to the Elder  “…take him back and put him under again for he is still lying.”  (Bill had a pre-existing problem of telling things that would “hardly hold water”).

Church records are sketchy as to when First Baptist Church had its first inside baptistery. On Dec. 7, 1894 the Brookfield Courier reported that “….the new baptistery was used for the first time.  There were seven baptized.”  Possibly this may have been the firsts one.

Over the ensuing years, until it was replaced in more modern times, it occasionally sprang “a leak.”   Most of the time it was safely in “dry dock” under the choir loft.

A few years ago six candidates were scheduled to be baptized.  Unfortunately the water heater had failed over night, leaving the water “screamingly chilly” an hour or so before church began.  (For years this baptistery was filled bucket by bucket since there is no running water in the church.  Today we’ve graduated to a long, green garden hose snaking in from the next door Fellowship Hall).

Before the Pastor’s arrival at the church, the quick thinking, early arriving organist named Lois began carrying in pots and pans of hot water and dumping them into the baptistery.

An hour later six “unsuspecting” men and women were immersed in warm water.  Not a scream was heard thanks to a smiling, beautiful young lady sitting innocently at the organ!  A big smile on her lovely face.

Baptisms did not always go as smoothly as the one in our church on May 1.  The following story beautifully illustrates baptism’s occasional unpredictableness.

It was in a rural church like ours, with a baptistery built under the choir loft.  When used the pulpit was moved  out of the way, the choir chairs removed, the trap door opened and the baptistery filled with water.  Curtains were strung up on wires; one as a backdrop and a section curtained off for the men to dress and another for the women.

The young pastor was just out of seminary and the first two people he ever baptized would be an elderly man and a heavy set lady.

At the appropriate time two deacons came forward to assist the pastor.  One helped the elderly man down the wooden stairs into the baptistery where the pastor waited.  After he was baptized the two deacons helped the dripping senior up the stairs and back behind the curtain to change into dry clothes.

No one thought to help the young pastor with the heavy set woman.  Excited and unescorted she stepped into the baptistery on the first step.  The wooden steps were slick from standing under water so long.  Her feet slipped and she promptly sat down on the top step.  Then one by one she bounced down into the bottom of the baptistery in a sitting position.   Screaming and bouncing down the wet stairs she reached out to grasp the nearest thing available, which happened to be the curtains.  So down into the baptistery came the men and women’s dressing rooms.  It’s claimed you could hear her scream a mile away.

To the eyes of the entire congregation came the partly dressed elderly gentleman.  He had put on his white long johns and was just pulling up his trousers.  He dropped his trousers and stood paralyzed—staring with saucer sized eyes at the equally shocked congregation.  Then he grabbed a nearby chair and held it in front of him.

Since it was an evening baptism a fast thinking deacon turned the church lights off, thinking five minutes would be sufficient for the old man to make himself decent.  After five minutes the lights went back on.  The elderly man was still standing in his long underwear, protecting himself (from what?) with the chair.  The heavy set lady was gurgling, bubbling and saying unkind words in the bottom of the baptistery all tangled up in the curtains that had fallen down around her.  Standing in the corner of the baptistery with his arms folded and his eyes staring straight ahead like in a trance was the young pastor.  The young pastor would have gladly traded our little cool water for a hysterically screaming woman whose main concern was not drowning.

But these are just the musings of a simple country man who salutes and congratulates all those involved in successfully dunking for the Lord.

Hobie Morris is a Brookfield resident and simple country man.

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