Serving as the interim pastor of my small Baptist church means more than just preaching on Sunday mornings, where I finished a six-month series on the book of Ecclesiastes—and where I’m about to start a series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It means more than teaching an adult Sunday school class—something I’ve been doing for nearly as long as I’ve been at this church, approaching twenty-eight years now: I just began a series on “The Hard Questions of Theology.” And it is more than being in charge of the Sunday evening service, too. I just finished a six-week series on six of Jesus’ disciples, picking some that many people might not have thought to include among them, but are: such as Junia, whom Paul references as an apostle in Romans 16 (the only woman in the Bible who is so identified), Mary Magdalene, and Mary, Jesus’ mother. Several women were Jesus’ disciples as much as the more well-known twelve men. Among those twelve guys, I chose to talk about John, Thomas and Simon the Zealot. John and Thomas are not out of the ordinary. But Simon, the Zealot is probably not one many would likely pick if they were being selective. Being called the Zealot means he was, essentially, a terrorist before becoming a follower of Jesus. The Zealots were a Jewish party devoted to overthrowing the rule of the Roman Empire by assassinating Romans and those Jews that they viewed as being collaborators. (Such as the disciple Matthew. Before joining up with Jesus, Matthew was a tax collector; the conversation between Matthew and Simon as they wandered the Judean countryside with Jesus must have been quite interesting.)
Having finished with that series on the disciples, the next six-week series will consist of lessons on Passover, Succoth, Hanukkah, and finally Purim. There will likely be some food associated with each of those services.
And then there’s the Wednesday night prayer meetings. Since I became the interim, we have revived what had been a previous custom of our church which was to have a dinner along with the prayer meeting. Being Baptists, we like to meet three times a week rather than just the traditional Sunday morning getting together time.
But even all that is not the end of what it means to be the interim pastor. I’ve also gotten to do a few other activities that have been new to me: such as officiating what we call the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, where we break bread and drink grape juice (since we’re Baptists and don’t do wine).
And then this past Sunday a little girl no more than seven years old approached me and asked to be baptized. So in two weeks I’ll get to perform my first baptism, which in Baptist tradition involves filling a baptistery full of water into which the new believer will be fully immersed. As the one performing the rite, it means I’ll be standing up to my waist in the same water.
And our baptistery happens to be outside. Thankfully it has been rather warm lately—up in the seventies—and we recently upgraded the plumbing on the baptistery so we can actually fill it with warm water now instead of just using a hose. So it shouldn’t be too uncomfortable.
Doing a baptism brings back interesting memories for me. Like this child, I was but seven years old when I was baptized. One Sunday morning many, many years ago, I was sitting in a Sunday morning service in a small Baptist church in Albuquerque and after the service I asked my mom, “how do you know when you become a Christian?” After talking to my mom some more, and meeting with the pastor that very Sunday evening I was baptized. Unlike my current church, that small church in New Mexico had a baptistery inside the building. I don’t remember much about what the pastor said to me as he pushed me under water, but I do remember the painting on the back wall behind the water tank was supposed to resemble the landscape of the biblical Jordan River and that we sang a song about “gathering at the river.” Beyond that, about all I remember is getting wet and getting water up my nose. I also remember how happy my mom was.
But, thankfully I have witnessed a large number of baptisms since that day, and I now have a rather significant background in theology and biblical studies, so I know enough to say the baptismal phrase, “I now baptize you, my sister, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” BEFORE dunking the child under water—and not WHILE holding the child under it. The actual immersion is very quick and very brief. The child will not have to have the lung capacity of an Olympic athlete in order to survive the process.