Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Doug's Baptism - personal essay

Church is such a predicable event that when the unpredictable does happen, it often creates a life long memory. The story I’m about to tell really has its beginning in the confusion Christ created with his instructions to his disciples to go into the world and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Had he known the confusion that would follow this command, or had he ever taught seventh graders, he would have given more complete instructions, I’m sure.

The confusion seems to center around how to do it, to whom to do it, and who does it: do we throw a little water on people or do we have to dunk them until every inch of their bodies are wet? Is it alright to do babies, or do we have to wait until they grow up? Can just anybody do it, or does it take a real preacher man? The story I’m about to tell could have only happened to genuine, baptizing dunkers who do adults.

Now mind you, this incident happened when I was a mere youth of 22, so I’m reaching back nearly 40 years to tell it. Don’t be surprised if a detail or two is a bit fuzzy or if I have exaggerated a little here and there. But, when I was 22, I was the music man for Sunday morning services in my church. If you have ever heard me sing, you might question that, but enthusiasm and energy were much more important than musical ability in our pentecostal church, and I certainly had both, along with a good dose of adult attention deficit disorder, so the music thing kept me occupied.

One Sunday morning, as the offering was being taken and the preacher and I were sitting on the platform, he leaned over and said to me, “Joe, I’ve got a problem.”

“What is it,” I asked.

“Doug Hotes wants to be baptized.”

Well, I immediately saw the problem. You see, Rev. Bither was about five feet four inches tall and rather slight of build. Doug, on the other hand, was six feet five inches tall and weighed in at a good 385 pounds. Being as we were dunkers, this certainly appeared to be a problem. Since I tend to be a “quick read,” I solved his problem, or thought I had, very quickly. I whispered back, “Get Norm to help you.” Now, that all seemed logical to me. Norm was a deacon of some physical stature, probably six foot one or two. He was an outdoorsman, so his physical condition had to be better than average. Unfortunately, there were a couple of things I apparently didn’t understand about baptisms.

Well, the night of the baptism arrive. As is the case with many dunkin’ churches, there was a big, walk in water tank at the back of the platform. There were steps leading down into the tank. (They’d make great hot tubs in another setting. But, since they are in churches, they only get used occasionally. Somebody ought to take that up with Jesus and see if something can’t be done.) First Doug appeared from behind the curtain to slowly and reverently walk down the steps into the tank. Right behind him was Rev. Bither.

Now the preacher did realize that my solution was partly correct; he did need help with this project. So, behind him was the Rev. Tuell, the skinniest, scrawniest, oldest preacher in our district. He didn’t stand much taller than Bither, if any. When I saw him, I realized what the problem had been with my solution; it had to be a genuine baptizing man or it wouldn’t take, and poor Norm was only a deacon. So, I sat back to watch. This had to be good.

The Rev. Bither stood to one side of Doug, and Rev. Tuell positioned himself behind. I suppose he figured that would put him in a good position to raise Doug back out of the water. I thought it put him in a good position to get drown. Slowly Bither intoned, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Doug quickly saw that these two baptizers would never be able to lay him down in the water and bring him back up as was the custom, so when the preacher intoned “Holy Ghost,” Doug simply grabbed his nose and sat down, all the way to the bottom. The ensuing tidal wave was enough to wash over him entirely and swamp the two genuine baptizers. After all the sputtering, coughing and wiping water out of the eyes was done, the three slowly and reverently climbed the stairs and left the baptismal tank.

I don’t suppose much confusion over baptism got washed away that night, but it sure was a good show. At least for that meeting, the unpredictable had happened.


  1. I met Doug Hotes Sr. in 1991 and at 6'5, I confirm, he was easy to recognize! His son Doug on the other-hand, was only 5'9 and appeared to be a mouse.

    1. Funny comment for someone who hides behind "unknown."