by Robert Ricks, Becketwood Member (as told to Carol Masters)
A small congregation that I served in Illinois hadn’t had a baptism in eight years. They practiced total immersion to follow the example of Jesus, baptized by John in the River Jordan. The process seemed doable for me, young as I was. The font, a pool adult-human-sized, was inside the chancel, behind the altar and separated from the congregation by a pair of sliding doors. The doors were kept closed while the person underwent immersion and as he or she was helped to an adjoining room to dry and dress. Generally, the baptismal candidate would don a sort of long gown. A set of wooden steps (three, for the Trinity) led down into the font, so that the person could ease into the water. The minister would knock when the doors should be opened for the next baptismal candidate, and faithful ushers standing by would slide open the doors.
This little church was in Central Illinois, a few miles south of Bloomington. The climate in those days was moderate but certainly variable: winters were snowy and summers could be beastly hot. Maybe it wasn’t enough to fry an egg, but the heat could have unfortunate effects on rubber—which was significant for my waders, hanging on a hook for eight years on a south wall. Now the baptism took place on Easter—probably March—and although we’d just filled the font, the heating system was not adequate to the frigid temperatures and the water was just short of glazing over.
I stepped into the font, in my Sunday clergy suit and fisherman’s waders, holding out my hand to help this lady step in. All of a sudden I felt icicles slide up my calves as the cold water gushed into the heels of my waders. At the same moment, the barefoot lady stepped into the icy font, threw out her arms and emitted something between a gasp and a yelp. An arm struck the closed panels—and the alert ushers flung wide the doors. I don’t know who was more amazed, but the congregation clapped in delight.