Monday, February 21, 2005

Her Faith...My Reasoning...A Holy Moment

Yesterday, she came to me just before Sunday morning worship was to start. Her smile told me she had something to share and she couldn't wait to blurt it out. "Hello!" I said. "You look like you have something you want to say."

"I want to be baptized!"

You could have knocked me over with a feather. What a wonderful statement. It is music to a preacher's ear. But it was unexpected. To be honest, I don't have a lot of people coming to me out of the blue to tell me this. I am usually the one who has to initiate a conversation of this sort.

Now, you need to know a little about this young woman and my contact with them. She had been coming to worship with her boyfriend for a while. I'd see them sitting on the back row during worship and we'd exchange polite greetings. I'd see them when she and her boyfriend would come to the building during the week to drop off some items for our food pantry. She occasionally helped her boyfriend's mother, the one who keeps our food pantry stocked, with this ministry. I'd see her at various fellowship gatherings of the congregation. But that was the extent of my contact with this young woman.

I hadn't even had one conversation with her to try to convince her to be baptized. I hadn't had a chance to talk about the steps she needed to take. You know those "Hear, Believe, Repent, etc" kind of steps. I hadn't even had a significant conversation to see if she was ready for this. I hadn't checked to see if she had counted the cost. I hadn't had the opportunity to ask if she knew all the reasons and justifications for baptism. I hadn't really talked to her about anything. All I knew was that I had a young woman standing in front of me with a genuine smile on her face (one that you were not going to wipe off her face) and she wanted to be baptized. No...She HAD to be baptized.

"OK, when you do want to be baptized? Today?"

"How about tomorrow morning?" She replied. She is a shy person who didn't want to be the center of attention.

"Well, fine. That's fine with me. What time is good for you?" I offered. "8:00 am?" She countered.

"Good, I'll see you then." I said. And then she and her boyfriend turned and made their way to their seats.

This morning, I awoke to a falling snow. I put the Nissan Pathfinder in 4-wheel drive and headed to the building. The beauty of the white, falling snow seemed to be a perfect compliment to what was about to take place.

Ed, one our church shepherds, arrived shortly after I got to the building. Mark (another shepherd) and his wife, Amy (our church office assistant), were to arrive in a few moments. A small community of faith would soon gather around the baptismal pool.

I finished filling the baptistery and waited for the young woman and her boyfriend. They came through the door and she still had that wide smile on her face. It really couldn't be wiped off.

We talked over the details, things like where enter the baptismal pool, what clothes to wear, how the baptism will take place, I then asked if she'd prefer to stand in the water or kneel before being submerged.

"I think I'd like to kneel." She replied.

I don't know why I asked that question. I've never had someone kneel before. It just came from my lips without thought.

I asked this young woman about what brought her to this decision and why she wanted to do this. "I want to be closer to God." She replied in a simple but confident manner. She also mentioned that her boyfriend had naturally shared his faith with her as they dated and also she'd been impacted by the way our church lived and acted. She loves the simplicity, the family-like feel, and the genuineness and authenticity she experiences when she is with us. She was particularly impacted by a comment someone made during a recent Sunday communion meditation about why Christ died for us. Oh yeah, she loves the singing too.

Our little community of faith gathered in a circle, held hands, and we prayed. She and I then walked down the steps, acclimated ourselves to our surroundings, and she knelt down next to me. I said a few words. She leaned backwards. I held her as the water surrounded her total being. In a few seconds she arose from the watery grave. She arose, but she did not stand.

She stayed there, in the water, kneeling in the pool. The water dripping off her clothing. She was soaking it all in. You could hear her deep breathing. She did not want to rush this experience. We all felt the same thing. It was a holy moment.

Her boyfriend met her at the top of the stairs. His words to her were simple but eloquent. "I am so proud of you."

After she changed out of her baptismal clothes, we all met again in our community circle. Ed prayed a wonderful prayer. Hugs were exchanged. I asked this young woman how she felt about what just happened. "This is an amazing moment." She said this with that huge smile still on her face. "Keep that smile forever." I told her. And with that, we all departed, out into the snow, to begin our day.

As I sit here this evening, reflecting on today, this moment keeps coming back to me. It's amazing to me as well. It's amazing to me what happens when the Gospel is unleashed in a community of faith causing us to live and act in certain ways. It's amazing to me what the Gospel does in a person searching for and in faith. It's amazing to me when the Gospel is allowed to do it's own work and I don't get in its way. It's amazing what the Gospel produces. It's amazing.

I'm speechless from today's events. This reflection cannot adequately describe the holiness of the day. But, like this young woman, I too have a smile on my face. I think God was smiling today as well. No...I know He's smiling.


Rebecca said...

Powerful story! Baptism is such an intimate event, and as I read your words, I was smiling myself. We often worry too much about making sure the individual knows what they "need" to know, satisfying all of the necessary steps. And in that worry, we negate the power of faith. Thank you for being real, and for sharing that holy moment.

Dana said...

I agree with Rebecca! We are so worried about the small things we forget that it is between the person and God. What a wonderful story! I got the same feeling I get everytime I am allowed to witness the new birth of a brother or sister--a lump in my throat, overwhelming joy and a deep glowing warmth. God bless this young woman and God bless you,for sharing this story.

Greg Taylor said...

Paul, thank you very much for sharing this powerful baptism story. We would serve our churches to remember how the Apostle Paul spoke of baptism in the letters we have . . . always after the fact and instructing what it continues to mean in their lives. "You were washed, you were justified, you were cleansed, you were buried with Christ . . . so you will also be raised with Christ." Too much of our instruction to our children and "walk up" baptisms is done on the front row as a method of "if I can't talk them out of it, they must be ready" method. The way you responded, Paul, was beautiful and I believe appropriate, and now "Paul," you have much more to teach this new believer about what that event meant. It was poignant and deeply moving for you and her and her boyfriend that day as she knelt in gratitude in the water, and it will continue to grow in significance as Christ-centered teaching is applied to who we are as "baptized into Christ" disciples.

Anonymous said...

I agree... beautiful story! My guess is that this kind of story (as we continue to move from "strong-arm evangelism" to more relational ways of sharing our faith) may become more common. In the last few months we have had two families connect with our church... gradually integrating into church life, making friends, becoming part of ministries. One couple decided it was time to be baptized after approaching several of us with questions. The other couple is asking the same kinds of questions, and I expect that they too will soon see baptism as their next logical step in their journey toward God. Thank you, Paul, for sharing from your heart.

Candy said...

I am deeply moved by this story. I love the way God spoke thru you to make her experience exactly what this young woman needed this moment in time to be. It speaks volumes about her heart and yours. I can hardly contain myself as a huge smile creeps across my own face. Thank you.