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Taking the Plunge

Getting baptized as an adult is an experience I’ll never forget.

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“You’ve never been baptized,” my mom said to me when I told her that I planned to join a new church. It was a major revelation. I come from a long line of Bible-toting, big-hat-wearing Baptists. For most of my childhood, I assumed everyone was born Baptist, and as such, the actual baptism was pro forma. Everybody got baptized, right? I guess not.

At the time, I realized that if I hadn’t decided to change churches, the subject might not ever have come up. With that one revelation, I found myself questioning my faith while navigating the unexpected complexities of being baptized as an adult.

In the Baptist church, there are generally three ways to become a new member: by letter, by Christian experience or by baptism. I hadn’t even considered getting a letter of transfer from our previous family church since my mom and I had stopped going to services there quite some time ago. I figured my best option would be Christian experience, which meant writing a personal statement attesting to your faith in and adherence to the basic principles of the church. But neither were an available option if you hadn’t already been baptized.

I’d attended the same church on and off throughout high school and college. Now I wanted to become a bona fide member but the realization about my non-baptism made me question my eligibility for membership and my entire righteousness. Had I been a good enough Christian thus far to even be worthy? When I shared my fears with a close friend, she sent me a nice card assuring me that I was already qualified, regardless of whether I had officially waded in the water.

About a month after I declared my intent to join the church body, I literally took the plunge into the baptismal pool (most Baptists practice full immersion). On that day, I sat in a pew among mostly children, 5 to 10 years old, and wondered how I ended up there dressed in all white, which is not my preferred color scheme. We were waiting to be led from the main sanctuary across the parking lot to an older building where the church held Sunday school and housed its baptismal pool. As I Iistened to childhood chatter around me, I kept thinking the rite of passage would’ve been simpler when I was younger and less self-conscious.

I wouldn’t have had to take off work early. I wouldn’t be worried about my hair. I wouldn’t have been concerned that “my friend Flo” would show up and ruin the moment. I would’ve been able to meditate or read my favorite scripture when we finished instead of plotting to avoid the overly helpful church mothers who would try to strip my clothing and wrap me in a towel so I wouldn’t catch cold like they did to all the little girls who got baptized. To them, I was just a baby.

My mental list of items that could go wrong grew longer as we waited. Fortunately, once we left the sanctuary and made our way to the baptismal, that wave of anxiety was replaced by an overwhelming sense of calm. As I walked in the water towards my pastor, I thought of my parents and two close friends who had come to support me in my choice to take this next step on my faith journey.

I wanted to be there and was fully cognizant of my personal reasons for deciding to take the plunge. I’d heard so many stories from family members who were baptized but had been too young at the time to really remember it or appreciate its significance. So I guess my complexities were actually blessings in disguise. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

Getting baptized was about so much more than being eligible to join a church. I wanted to unite with other like-minded folk in a common space where we could share in each other’s faith. Collective worship may not be a part of everyone’s spiritual walk; in fact, there have been times when it hasn’t been integral to mine.

My most important lesson: I can make decisions about my faith on my own terms. There will always be some rite, ritual or routine that someone somewhere thinks makes him or her a more superior Christian. I’ve heard many of them: Do you tithe? Are you saved? When was the last time you testified? If these are measurements of faith that one holds dear, I’m not one to question them. But my spiritual growth resulted from choosing the joy in the journey rather than relying on ritual.