Morning sun trickled through the muted tans and lavender of the stained glass windows, casting shadows of color on the people who gathered in the pews. Familiar smells of aged wood, polished brass and burning bees wax candles still fill my senses as I think about worship in that little Gothic sanctuary in East Texas. The charter members had chosen to locate the church deep inside a residential area on a corner lot filled with towering mature pine trees. It was a quaint church located in a hard to find neighborhood.
Generations of my family had come before me down the very aisle I was about to walk. In 1949, ten years after the church’s founding, my grandparents went to the front of the Sanctuary to become new members. My parents exchanged their vows of marriage on the front steps in 1952. Evidence of this day remain tucked in a wedding album kept in the top drawer of a wooden credenza in my parent’s home. My father and mother were as beautiful as they were young when they were married.
I was five years old when my mother and father escorted me out of our favorite pew to the chancel. We sat under the third hanging light on the pulpit side. I’m not for sure but I choose to remember that my dad held one of my hands while my mom held the other and I did what most kids do in such a situation, I lifted my feet off the ground and swung between my parents as if hanging from the monkey bars on a playground. If indeed this is what happened, and I chose to remember it this way, then my Mom must have leaned down to tell me to walk like a big boy, which I am sure I did because all I've ever wanted to do was please my parents and my church.
The Pastor, in his billowy black robe, waited for us, smiling as we came to the Font. I remember liking him very much as a child. He always took time to bend down to greet me and say something kind. I can still hear his gentle voice and the slow deliberate way he spoke. He made church real, especially the time when he told stories about a family of birds from the pulpit.
I did not understand everything the day I was baptized, but I did recognize joy. Standing beside the Pastor, I looked around at the happy faces of my Sunday school teachers and others who had spent their time telling me Bible stories and singing. I also remember seeing some children my age sitting in the pews looking up at me wondering why they couldn’t be with me.
Doctor Snipes spoke words from a little leather bound book. Looking up from his knees I intently watched his every move. Soon he closed the book and bent down to pick me up. He dipped his cupped hand into the small stainless steel bowl inserted in the wooden font. The water was cold as he touched my touched my burr-topped head, repeating my name…all three of them. Water trickled down my forehead, over my eyes and into the collar of my shirt. I tried to wipe the water away, but my mom grabbed my arm bringing me to proper Presbyterian attention. Before we left the chancel, we prayed together. At the pastor’s cue all heads bowed. I know because I looked. They all said “Amen” at the end. Afterward, worship continued as it had on other Sundays, with hymns, the Creed, and Scripture reading. Most Sunday’s we read a Psalm printed in the back of the hymnal – ours were the red words, the pastors were in black.
I didn’t understand everything on the day I was baptized but I knew that was loved. I also knew that those promises had to do with me. I didn’t understand everything, but I knew deep down I belonged.
And today....forty five years after my baptism....the congregation who stood with my family and voiced this baptismal covenant using my three names given at birth now distort my story and my person-hood with a pastor's letter and a Session's adopted statement. In the coming days I'll tell more of my story because it's simply time to do so.