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Returning to the baptismal waters was more emotional than I ever expected.

Recently, I was asked to baptize a young woman named Kate in the church where I served for 11 years.

As a pastor with over two decades of local congregational experience, I grew accustomed to the common rituals of the church. There was the constant stream of baptisms, communion, weddings and funerals that filled my time and soul.

After leaving local church service for my current position, opportunities to participate in those rituals began to dwindle.

Now, please understand, I am a proponent of local pastors and ministers participating in those rituals as often as they can. However, I must admit that being asked to baptize a former parishioner was extremely moving.

Wading into the baptismal waters with a fellow disciple unleashed a flood of memories.

My first baptism was conducted in a swimming pool. I remember being worried, certain I was going to botch it, exposing my inexperience and scarring the poor candidate for life. Thankfully, the baptism went well, reminding me to never take for granted this sacred ritual.

There was a February Sunday morning when the heater broke, leaving the water ice cold. Giving the candidate a choice to postpone, the person said enthusiastically, “Nah, let’s do it. If I curse coming out of the water though, please forgive me.”

We may have performed the fastest baptism in the history of the church that day as I dispensed with the preachy monologue and got down to business. It took all of 20 seconds and, to everyone’s disappointment, there was no cussing.

Another time, I was asked to assist a pastor in Ghana, West Africa, as he baptized a slew of new disciples. Walking out into the lake, I noticed four deacons standing close by, holding sticks.

When I inquired how they were going to help, I was told they were there to make sure crocodiles left us alone. I don’t remember much after that news, but the entire experience was something I cherish to this day.

And, of course, there were the baptisms of my sons. There may be no greater moment in a minister’s career than when we get to participate in sacred events involving family.

Baptizing a family member or offering your child communion for the first time is both humbling and inspiring. You get the overwhelming sense that you’re participating in something greater than anything you can imagine.

Therefore, as I entered the baptismal waters to participate in this sacred rite with this young student, I was unprepared for the well of emotions bubbling up.

The young woman was now a high school student. I watched her grow up, evolving into this incredible, intelligent and kind woman standing beside me. Her family beamed as we began the ancient rite practiced throughout history and across the world.

Kate’s soft-spoken demeanor illustrated her nervousness, but she delivered her confirmation lines with both confidence and strength. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” I uttered just before dipping her into the waters.

There is no greater moment for a Baptist minister than when you see the smile breaking the surface of the water upon the return from the watery grave. The smile conveys both excitement and relief.

The excitement of faith professed measured against the nervousness of leaving old ways behind forces that smile on so many faces. When Kate broke the surface of the water that day, that smile appeared once again.

Driving home afterward, I began to ponder the baptisms gone by, as well as my own.

The baptismal act, regardless of mode, remains one of the most significant moments in a Jesus-follower’s pilgrimage.

It is both an ending and starting point, where individuals decide to leave their sins behind through repentance while looking forward to a new existence where grace, mercy, hope and love abide.

The Apostle Paul said it this way, “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

May each of us, from time to time, mentally, emotionally and spiritually return to the baptismal waters as a reminder of renewal and refreshment.

After an extremely difficult year, the waters of baptism still soothe life’s deep wounds and reignite the soul for the journey ahead.

My fellow sojourners, close your eyes, break the surface and smile, for the road is before us.

As people of good faith following Jesus, it will be the memories of baptism that provide sustenance for the way forward. Let us walk together in our watery footprints towards a future filled with hope and life.

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