Lookin' back on it, 73-year-old Reverend Billy James Brewster remarked sadly, "Just like Casey Stengel, I never shoulda showed up. I shoulda 'stood' in bed."
Three people had recently been saved and Brother Billy was rushin' to get them baptized. The King James Version of the Bible (you know, the one that St. Paul used?) isn't clear about what happens if the newly-saved die before bein' baptized, but Billy wasn't takin' any chances.
New converts were given their choice of being baptized in Long Bottom Creek or in the church baptistry. Most chose Long Bottom Creek because it was clear and clean and there was a picnic lunch afterward. But because it was cool in late September, the new converts chose the church baptistry instead. The deaconesses swept out the spiders, crushed Sunday School papers and empty coke cans and scrubbed the baptistry so the deacons could fill it with water on Saturday. Emma Pruitt washed, starched and ironed the pitiful, aged, white graduation gowns donated to needy Baptist churches by the county's only high school.
The baptistry had a 2 foot high piece of clear glass across the front, so members could be sure the baptism was a complete immersion, I guess. There was a Methodist church in nearby Elkin so if people preferred not to be dunked, they could go down there to be sprinkled. We called Methodists "Wussy Christians" preferring not to be baptized the Biblical way but except for that, they were good people.
Come Sunday night, everythin' was ready. After some singin' and a sermon by Billy entitled, "Sprinklers Belong in Your Yard and Not in Your Church", the three candidates for baptism were introduced to the congregation. Each one testified and promised to support the church with their attendance and their tithes. (The pastor's "Welcome Letter" would gently remind them of their tithe promise since the offerings had been a tad off lately due to some tithe money inexplicably finding its way to the Sunday stock car races in Elkin.)
First, Brother Billy led Sandra Billings down the steps into the water. Like the others she wore only her underwear under the heavy graduation gown which was okay because you couldn't see through it. Billy held a folded, white handkerchief tightly over Sandy's nose and baptized her in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
"Amen! Praise God! Hallelujah!" we shouted and clapped as she made her way up out of the baptistry.
Next came Sandra's husband, Henry, who was slender-built and not likely to further injure Billy's annoying hernia. Henry was the church's "Energizer Bunny," so named because once he started talking, there was no way on God's green earth to shut him up or even slow him down. Henry's long, drawn-out testimony came purt-nigh to bein' a full-fledged sermon, dragging on so long that old Clarence Johnson fell asleep and snored loudly on his portly wife's well-padded shoulder. The baptism was uneventful and not one amen was heard except the voice that stage-whispered, "Amen, thank God THAT'S done!"
Finally, it was Juney Orr's turn and that's when everything started coming apart at the seams, so to speak.
First of all, Juney was scared to death of water. Second of all, she was a mite short at 4 foot nine inches. And third of all, she weighed just shy of 225 pounds.
As Billy led Juney slowly and carefully down the steps, her graduation gown began to float on top of the water. It spread out like a huge parachute over the World War 2 Battle of Normandy. Billy reached over quickly and placed his folded, white handkerchief over her nose to get this baptism over with quickly and that's when it happened.
"I've dropped her!" Billy yelled, reaching for the microphone which was perched on the baptistry ledge outside the glass. Instantly Matt Bell, who operates the sound system in the back of the church, leaped from his seat and banged down on the system's "off" button with such monumental force that he broke it. It created a boom so intense and loud that everyone thought the furnace had exploded in the basement. If Matt hadn't cut the power instantly, Billy would have been electrocuted the instant he touched the hot microphone. What on earth was Billy a-thinkin'?
Terrified, everyone jumped to their feet, many rushin' out the open front doors. Sister Ella Johnson, not realizin' her foot was sleep, jumped up and quickly sank to the floor, wedged between the pews, and broke her ankle. A fleein' church member accidentally knocked Fannie Bauguss' grandbaby from its carrier and the baby was a-screamin' bloody murder. Fannie's irate phone call to the lady later in the afternoon left nothing to the imagination.
Still Brother Billy kept frantically searchin' for Juney under that voluminous graduation gown, scared to death he might grab some part of her body that might not be acceptable in church or anywhere else, for that matter.
Suddenly, Juney's two fat, little bare feet appeared straight up out of the water, churnin' and a-splashin' furiously, suggestin' she was upside down in the baptistry water under that floating graduation gown.
Four deacons instantly sprinted over the altar rail and up onto the platform to assist. This was a sight they did not want to miss. Finally, Billy took hold of somethin' he prayed was an arm, pulled it up and it was Juney, with the graduation gown wrapped around her neck and her underwear a-showin'. Those millin' around inside the church could see it all, thanks to the clear glass across the front of the baptistry.
A small cluster of deaconesses were hurriedly making their way to help Juney when Clara Billings put her fist up to her mouth and gasped, "What in heaven's name is Juney doin' wearin' bright red lace underwear beneath that sacred baptistry gown? Well, I never!" All the ladies leaned leaned forward to get a better view.
Now, Juney, havin' been a bar maid before she was saved, let go with a string of bar room words totally unacceptable in a church before she finally coughed and choked. "What are you people tryin' to do? Drown me?"
It was pure, total chaos with everyone out-shoutin' the other. But there were two redeemin' qualities to that memorable baptismal service:
In the back row, all the teenagers stood on their pews a-laughin' and high-fivin' each other, vowin' to never miss another service at this crazy, excitin' church.
And two weeks later, waiting her turn beside the baptismal fount at the First United Methodist Church of Elkin, stood a very proud and contented Miss Juney Charlene Orr, candidate for a sprinklin'.