I have been serving as pulpit supply at a very small church outside of Hodgenville, KY (attendance between 25-30) for the past few weeks. Yesterday, we had a baptism.
The church does have their own baptistery, which I was thankful for, but they do not have a working hot water heater. Instead, they attempted to heat the water Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning with an electric hot water heater stick. I’ve seen this done before, but never trusted the method. How is sticking a metal rod into a pool of water pumped full of electrical current a good idea?
The baptismal candidate was a lady named Jessica. She is a 30-something women, wife, mother of three, who had made a decision to follow Jesus this past summer.
As I was getting ready before the service, I stuck my finger into the water to test the temperature and was shocked to find it was freezing cold.
I asked the good ol’ boy Deacon, brother Danny, who had filled and “heated” the tank about the temperature and he said that he was giving it all he had. He sounded like Mr. Scott from Star Trek making excuses for the USS Enterprise. The hot water heater was not working and the heat stick wasn’t making a dent.
The verdict was simple: this baptism was going to be very, very, very cold.
When it was our time in the service, I slowly stepped down into the tank. The cold water nearly took my breath away. I was supposed to go down into the water while the church members were meeting and greeting. The water was so cold that I had to cut the fellowship time short, because I was going into hypothermia.
When I got everyone’s attention by rudely shouting, “Hey, let’s wrap it up,” everyone started to get the picture. I was freezing and the poor baptismal candidate hadn’t even got into the water yet.
When I invited Jessica to join me in the tank, my teeth started chattering together. I could sense my inner core pulling body heat from my extremities. You feel this tightening in your chest because your body is preparing to freeze to death. “Push through it,” “don’t stop” was racing through my mind.
I introduced Jessica and asked her two questions to confirm her public profession of faith and then turned to get ready to baptize her. I could see the fear in her eyes. She knew how cold this was going to be.
When she came up from the water, she audibly gasped for air. You could hear her all through the church. I can’t imagine how cold she was. And of course, we Baptist don’t believe in dipping or sprinkling, she had to get all wet, all dunked, all immersed.
As we both rushed out of the baptistery area, I could HEAR her shivering. You know that sound of repeated quaking and trembling. And she wasn’t alone. I was barely able to keep my teeth from crashing in to one another.
As I rushed into the men’s restroom to change, I knew it was over but I was still so cold. I didn’t get feeling back into my feet until nearly the end of the message. There might have been fire in my heart while I was preaching, but there were ice-blocks on my feet.
Poor Jessica, even now in dry clothes and back in the pews, she still had wet hair and was shivering the whole message.
At the end of the service, we invited her and her family to come up to the front to present her with a baptismal certificate and a new Bible. I also invited the church to come and pray for this family as Jessica grows in her new found faith. I thought the laying on of hands might warm her up a bit.
All in all, I will never forget this chilly baptism in a small country church in the middle of December. I felt like I had returned to the pioneer days with winter baptisms down in the local creek.
I am sure of one thing – I don’t want to do it again.