Sister Tabor’s Baptism

 Growing up in a rural area can have its pluses and minuses. Sandspurs, for example, would not be considered a plus. There are millions, I suppose, that have never seen a sand spur around their house unless you live in sandy areas or maybe around a Florida beach. The actual name of these little devils is Cenchrus longispinus and cenchrus gracillimus for the varieties that grow in the Southeastern US and you have to be really careful pronouncing that first one.

By whatever name you call them, they will deter you from going barefooted! That is one reason that I never went without shoes at my home as a kid. We had them all over the yard. And, they will attach themselves to your pants and socks without warning and you will distribute them to everyplace you travel. So, I guess, sand spurs would be in the minus column.

There are many other very positive things that the rural South had to offer and some of these were shared by other areas and not exclusively “Rural South”. One of these wonderful and cherished traditions was the outward celebration and demonstration by a dear church member of “Finding The Lord” and “Accepting Christ”. Not a laughing matter, certainly, and something to be happy and proud of.

Different denominations and Christian faiths take the matter of baptism very, very seriously. The method, to many, is as important as the act itself.

For some, the baptism “rite” is just a simple way of expressing their deep commitment and acceptance of the Lord and a simple sprinkling will do that just fine. It is considered an “outward expression of an inward conversion and acceptance of the Holy Spirit.” The pastor uses a special, usually silver, cup with some water that has been blessed and consecrated by prayer. He dips his/her fingers in the cup and applies a dab of water on the head of the new convert to the faith who is usually kneeling at the church altar and that’s it. Another word of two from a baptism ceremony and a prayer and the church welcomes a sinner home!

But, there are many from the old school where John The Baptist was down in the Jordan River, up to his, shall we say, knees in the water and people were coming down to be baptized in the water. Even the Lord Himself!

With that image many feel that immersion is the only true and acceptable baptism method and the other sprinkling stuff just doesn’t cut it. Since I was in the Methodist Church, we were given the option: sprinkle or dunk. Some people would get sprinkled in the winter and get a “real baptism” down at the crick ( creek ) when the weather was warm later on, The pastor usually liked that better, too.

A lot of churches are called Baptist or Evangelical or Holiness, etc. and sound like they are part of a large national or international body, and of course, some are. But many are independent or small loosely connected groups and pretty much set their own local rules about such matters as baptism.

I attended some of these with my family members and got to see a variety of church traditions being carried out by some of the nicest, most devout and caring people on the planet. But it was their way or the highway on such matters as baptism.

Now, some people would “accept the Lord” in the spring and summer and a baptism would be arranged at a nearby, easily accessible creek or pond. Usually, but not always, the pastor would try to schedule several at one time so as to make it an event and not have to keep going back repeatedly to do one at the time. The water might be a little chilly but on a warm day most people could tolerate the water temperature as they could usually be in and out quickly.

The pastor usually had a special pair of pants and old shoes to wear into the water while trying to appear as “Pastoral” as possible. Now, some people would come to the baptism without giving a lot of thought to how some materials look and react when wet on a person’s body! Women would often get a dress that they did not wear much and did not care if it “got ruined” in the water.

The pastor would usually say a few words and offer up a prayer and walk into the water and call the person to be baptized and ask that they come out to where he was deep enough to dip the person, usually backwards, into the water. In some cases, the pastor would have a church member assist and in others the pastor would do it on their own.

Now, if you have never tried this, you might want to do it when there are some emergency personnel around……just in case. There are some people, believe it or not, that get panicky when they are leaned over backwards and their nose and head goes under the water. This panic can cause the person to kick their feet or jerk somewhat violently and lose their footing thus putting their entire weight suddenly on the one arm that the pastor has under their back.

With rocky and muddy and slippery bottoms, the pastor and the person being baptized have been known to go down flailing the water and having to be rescued by onlookers. The person is helped up to the bank and there the nature of their clothing that they chose to wear becomes apparent, or on some cases, transparent! Modesty is shaken to the core and people who came with the deepest of sincere intentions find themselves gawking and giggling! The mere fact that everyone has escaped without drowning is probably testimony to God’s Divine Intervention!

So, some of the more prosperous churches decided to make the process more civilized and something that could be done in a more civilized manner. One that would not tie up their whole day meeting their spiritual and personal obligation to go see Sister Tabor get baptized.

They started having Baptisteries right in the church! While today, most of these resemble a small hot tub or pool with steps and hand rails, all made of molded fiberglass with a nice water heating device, this was not always the case. Even now, there are some made of Oak and very ornate in design.

The first one I remember seeing was made of wood and had a thick glass front so it looked a lot like an aquarium. The unit was built behind the choir section which was behind the pulpit section so there were three different levels.

Walking up from the sanctuary level, you would make one step up to the pulpit level which might have one or two podiums, depending on how the donations went, and a couple of real nice pulpit chairs. Then you would step up another step into the choir “loft” which might also have a door of its own to enter and exit the area. Then there was the Baptistery which was often behind a curtain and up one more level. It was usually not visible except on days when there was to be a baptism.

The older models sometimes had heaters, but unless someone thought to turn it on a couple of days before the thing was to be used, it did little to really warm up the water and you might see some people coming from the kitchen trying to add some hot water to make it tolerable.

The glass front models often leaked and so they only put water in them the day of the baptism and then drained it immediately after. The glass front models did little in the way of modesty protection and sometimes the pastor found himself having to grab the person wherever they could to prevent drowning and this could be somewhat embarrassing when the pastor grabbed hold in certain areas.

Now, Sister Tabor was not the person’s real name in this story. But, I like the name “Sister Tabor”. I might also add that I am a descendent of the Tabor’s so I feel I have some inherited license to use the name. My Grandmother’s mother was a Tabor who married a Hudson. My Grandmother’s maiden name was Hudson. I have a picture of a bunch of Tabors standing in front of a house in about 1900. One of them, I am told, is my Great Grandmother.

Sister Tabor was getting up in years and had been going to the church ever since she got married to Brother Tabor. They were as regular as clockwork, attended every service, gave what they could, did anything that was asked of them and helped with every church event. They were part of the backbone of the church. But there was one problem.

Sister Tabor had never been baptized in the faith. She was sprinkled as a child somewhere but her church frowned on sprinkling and did not recognize it as true baptism. She was outside the traditions of her church. This needed to be fixed to insure her salvation was intact.

So, after much prayer and consultation with the pastor, it was decided that she would get a “real baptism” and a date was set. The announcement was made that the following Sunday, during the regular Sunday morning service, long time member Sister Tabor would be baptized! Hallelujah!

The pastor came down on Saturday and turned on the hose that ran from the well pump to the Baptistery and started filling the thing with the 40 degree water straight from the earth.

He did remember to turn on the electric heater, also. It took quite a while for the unit to fill up and he let the water run while he was mimeographing the church bulletin that his wife had typed up for him for Sunday. Then he worked on his sermon.

Sunday morning came and Sister Tabor decided to wear her dress that she would be baptized in to church and wear her long coat over it so that people would not see the dress’s condition. It had seen better days and she had worn it several pounds ago. It fit a little snuggly now.

Sister Tabor was not very tall, about 5’2” but what she lacked in height she made up for in girth. She weighed in at about 200 pounds and it was all due to a thyroid condition and her world famous chocolate cake. She made one every week.

The pastor offered a brief sermon and asked that the choir sing a song and then they all left to clear the area. He, in rather dramatic fashion, opened the curtains to the Baptistery and all could see the water filled unit and some steps had been fashioned to allow entry into the water. Sister Tabor was called up and her “loved ones” were invited to join her up in the choir loft and to stand on either side as witnesses to this holy event. The day had come for Sister Tabor to become a “true” church member.

The pastor walked up to the steps going down into the baptistery and stepped down into the water. He immediately realized that the water was anything but warm! In a word, it seemed to be ice cold!

So he told Sister Tabor, assisted by Brother Tabor to come in and he was motioning for her to come in quickly so they could get it over with. She stepped into the water and immediately felt the shock of the cold water and her foot slipped and down she went! The pastor goes to grabbing and pulling to get her up and in so doing rips all the buttons off the front of Sister Tabor’s dress while falling himself headlong into the water!

Brother Tabor and some of the onlookers were trying to get to where they could assist but there was limited access to get to them. The pastor regains some footing and is pulling for all his might on Sister Tabor’s arms and when she finally got her head out of the water, she was screaming at the top of her lungs! “God help me! I’m going to drown in this damned thing. Get me out of here!”

By now Sister Tabor’s dress is almost completely off and all 200 pounds of her is on display through the glass and the nearly invisible, wet, cotton dress. The congregation is in hysterics or in a panic or both!

Brother Tabor finally gets into the pool with Sister Tabor and the pastor. But now there was another problem: the pastor had filled the baptistery to the top. He had not considered Archimedes Principle and no allowance had been made for his added volume nor the 200+ pound Sister Tabor and certainly not the also fairly large Brother Tabor who had now joined them in the water. They had gotten Sister Tabor calmed down but she had not yet realized the spectacle that was on display to the congregation.

By then, the water that was being displaced from the baptistery was flowing over the top level, down over the choir level, and out over pulpit level and was making its way down the center aisle of the church. The congregation was in a state of unbelief and everyone was frozen place.

The pastor put his arm around the half-naked Sister Tabor and pronounced in his loudest and most authoritarian voice: “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, The Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

Then he yelled, ‘Let’s get out of this water! I’m freezing my butt off!”

The congregation, seeing that Sister Tabor was coming up out of the pool and was not dying, all breathed a sigh of relief. It was looking like everything was returning to normal until Sister Tabor realized that she was baring her soul and a lot more to the entire congregation.

She screamed at Brother Tabor. “Get my coat over here; I’m standing here with my ass showing!”

Brother Tabor got the coat around her as fast as he could and they splashed down the aisle and out the front door to their car and were gone! She didn’t show her face, or anything else, in the church for several weeks. But, she had been thoroughly baptized “in the name of the Lord!”

Copyright: Sandy Point Times

2015

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