Nothing in the water

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I once wrote about a baptistry that sat unused for more than a decade out at Nola, a tiny spec of a spot on the Lawrence County map. Sunday after Sunday, people walked around it, kids hid beside it, and spiders found their way into it — that piece of 1960s-baby blue fiberglass — as membership rolls at the only church on that lonely strip of pavement declined. And declined some more.

But as Providence would have it, the church was rebirthed a few years ago. These days its gravel parking lot is filled with minivans and pickups coming from a 45-mile range, proving that if God builds it (the church, not Kevin Costner’s ballfield), they will come.

And they did that spring day three years ago, when folks piled into the pews to view the baptisms of two young moms and a National Guardsman. There was a sermon, then a song of being whiter than snow before they began coming out, their white-as-snow baptismal robes trailing behind. Some denominations would call them candidates for baptism. I suppose that would explain why their speeches were so good.

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I remember sitting there among the breathless while the first young mom gave hers, the confession of her tongue winding its way down the rows, spelling out where a stiff neck had gotten her and where a changed heart is taking her.

The preacher rolled up his sleeves and her silhouette dipped. The water sloshed. She came up smiling.

Another descended the steps and took the sacred spot, explaining that her history of passing by the baptistry ran deep, but her path had finally run clear through it. Standing there in the water, she said it loud and she said it for all to hear, that she wanted the world to know she was drenched in Jesus.

Next, the soldier made his own waves. With a mic to his mouth, he told it like it is — and like it was — writing an obituary for all the world to read that said the old him is dead. A wife watching from a spot near stained glass knew his words were true, knew she liked being that kind of widow.

The soldier rose from the water, and the preacher wrapped things up, explaining that they were “just being obedient to the command found in the Scriptures.” The three were left dripping, but no more than several cheeks in the congregation.

It is good to think on such moments, especially on a day when that old baptistry out at Nola is back in business. Someone I love was immersed in those waters Sunday, and we stuck around long enough to see the other side of the service, with all its the wet towels, family photos and joy.

I got to hear the other side of the service, too — the sound of 200 gallons of water draining away to sewer pipes beneath a church. It was loud and long, and not the least bit magical.

In 2014 country music star Carrie Underwood made a hit of “something” being in the water — in baptismal waters in particular. Recently she sang that song before 50,000 people gathered in the Georgia Dome for a Christian event called Passion 2017. A controversy ensued. That’s because listeners, the paying attention kind, heard the heresy. I won’t bore you with things like salvific value and baptismal regeneration (this is a secular paper, after all) but they all come into play during such a discussion.

Maybe here it’s enough to just say that there’s nothing in the water. But there is in the Word. And that’s the beautiful tie between vintage blue fiberglass and new life.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at