Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

September 25, 2005


The preacher’s chest waders and 150 gallons of hot water


          I will never forget the day I baptized Mike and Anna. They came to Christ, fell in love, and decided to get married. But before the wedding they wanted to be baptized. They were serious about having a Christian home.

          There was only one small problem. They wanted to be baptized by immersion and most Methodist churches do not have a baptistry.

Methodists believe in baptism by immersion; we just don’t believe in it enough to install a baptistry in our churches.

          We do, however, allow candidates for baptism to choose one of the three historic modes of baptism: sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. While I have baptized hundreds of people, I have never baptized anyone by pouring. Methodists prefer sprinkling or immersion.

          Many Methodists agree with our Baptist friends that baptism should be done by immersion. They believe that you are not baptized until you have been “all the way under.” Frankly, I have never felt that the amount of water had a whole lot to do with it so I don’t quibble about the mode.

          Lacking a baptistry in my own church, I have immersed people in swimming pools, lakes, ponds, the ocean, and rivers. In Pensacola I had one strange baptism on the sound side of the bay. The water was so shallow that the candidate and I had to wade out a hundred yards before the water was deep enough for an immersion. The family on the shore could not even hear my prayer.

          For Mike and Anna a nearby Baptist church was chosen. The pastor was a good friend and always willing for me to use his baptistry on a Saturday without any charge. I had too much pride to tell him I had never baptized anyone in a baptistry before and that was a mistake I would pay for dearly.

          When the pastor offered to let me use his chest waders I thought that would be neat. He told me he would be out of town attending a football game but the custodian would have everything ready for me.

          What he failed to tell me was that the custodian was new on the job. He had never prepared the baptistry before and heated the water twice as long as necessary. Not only that, he had also put too much water in the baptistry.

          As I slipped into the chest waders that Saturday morning, I felt alone and uncomfortable. I was uncertain about my underwear but assumed I should leave it on. I did. Pulling a white robe over me, I walked uneasily out to the baptistry.

          I had noticed the water was steaming but thought nothing about it. If you cannot trust a Baptist, whom can you trust? But as I walked to the center of the baptistry, I suddenly realized the water was not only warm, it was hot. And it was only three or four inches below the top of the waders.

          I invited Anna to come in first.  Barely five feet tall, she frowned as she realized how hot the water was. The water was up to her shoulders. Quickly I offered a prayer and leaned her head backward and under the water. Immediately I lost her; she had lifted her feet off the bottom and was sliding to my left, at least a foot under the water.

          No one had told me to tell Anna to plant her feet firmly on the bottom and bend her knees as I put her head under the water!

          Instantly I realized the only way to retrieve Anna was to bend my knees and get my hands under her back so I could raise her up before she drowned. When I came up, I had Anna back under control but I also had about 150 gallons of that hot water inside those chest waders.

          Mike was much taller than Anna and much easier to immerse. In record time I baptized him, offered a quick benediction, and somehow managed to stagger to the dressing room with all that water still in my waders.

          I soon learned that it is not easy to get out of chest waders when they are filled with water. Exhausted I sat in a chair looking at my wet underwear and thinking how dumb I had been not to bring an extra pair of shorts. I could not even find a plastic bag to use to take my wet stuff home.

          Mike and Anna may one day forget their “hot water” baptism and the green horn Methodist preacher who immersed them. But I am pretty sure I never will. It was the last time I ever used chest waders. + + + +