Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Faith Works 9-26

Faith Works 9-26-09

Jeff Gill


Wade In the Water, Wade In the Water, Children



Wade in the water,

Wade in the water, children,

Wade in the water,

God's gonna trouble the water.


This weekend I have the privilege of doing an adult baptism. It's a very old, and in some ways very new practice of the Christian church, one adapted from Jewish purity ritual and commanded by the word and example of Jesus himself (in Matthew 3 & 28).


John the Baptist is the great bridge between those expressions of what it means to be washed in water, cleansing both body and spirit, using the Jordan River as a ritual location that was open to and affordable to all, regardless of social class or income.


Baptism is of course old with that Biblical history behind it, and it is new because . . . well, there are a number of factors making adult baptism a "new" area for many churches.


For many generations, baptism became more and more a membership ritual, and in quite a few traditions, something done to infants.  "Believer's baptism" traditions may have infant dedication and a "cradle roll," but don't take the plunge, so to speak, until twelve years old or so.


Add in that most people were "born into" a church to start with, and adult baptism tended to be with adolescents at the oldest.


Now that more children and families are avoiding church commitments altogether, it is less unusual to run into an adult who has never been baptized, and even in infant baptism traditions like Methodist and Lutheran, there's growing interest in "being baptized the way Jesus was."


Jordan's water is chilly and cold,

God's gonna trouble the water.

It chills the body, but not the soul.

God's gonna trouble the water.


When I was in seminary, there was one class which gave us a chance to practice on each other. I got baptized quite a few times, being the tallest in my class ("if you can get Gill dunked, you can do anybody!" said the prof). The one advice on non-baptistry baptisms he gave us was quite practically useful: always keep the nose pointing upstream. You don't want to bring the candidate for baptism back up into the current; hard on your arms and back, and shoves more water up their nose.


But it was a long, long time before I had to think about that advice. Like most clergy, I stayed inside my comfortable baptistery, with heating unit built in and waders on a hook behind the door.


A few weeks back, I got to help Central Christian in Newark celebrate 125 years; once, I took their youth group to the E. Main St. bridge just west of where it crosses Raccoon Creek. That's where their church did baptisms for the first decades of their life together.


Down in Hebron, where the founding preacher, Deacon Thomas Madden started Hebron Christian in 1867 before skating up the canal to start the Newark church, they had the outlet of the old interurban power plant, where warm water kept a stretch of the canal ice free year round, so baptisms could happen even in February.


How many of us have a dim family account of Great-Aunt Hattie, and the elders chopping a hole in the ice to baptize her one cold winter's Sunday? No one is in a hurry to go back to the future that far, but more and more people are asking for a baptism outdoors, in a pool, a pond, even in running water.


And I'm happy to make that happen, and bring together a congregation of whatever sorts to that spot. There's something about the nature of that "first" baptism, with Jesus hearing John say "Me baptize you? That's crazy talk." Jesus didn't need baptism to be cleansed himself, but he not only set the example (as any leader would), he shows us that a big part of what baptism is about is how it reminds us – how it reminds all those who witness it of how they fit into God's story of redemption, of cleansing, of renewal, of rising up out of the waters, of resurrection.


If you get there before I do.

God's gonna trouble the water.

Tell all of my friends I'm coming too.

God's gonna trouble the water.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your story of cold water and new beginnings at, or follow Knapsack