I entered the Christian faith when I was ten years old, although I didn’t realize for another twenty years that that was the moment I became a Christian. I was baptized on a cold, clear day in 1995 by a local fundamentalist pastor in a freezing cold creek, the water flowing over rocks in the shallow part, and the green water in the deeper part. It was between these two parts that Pastor Warren did the baptisms. I was terrified of deep water, but I had “gotten saved” after a particularly vicious spanking when I was five. My father had lead me in the “sinner’s prayer” in the back of an IPEC truck that had stickers on a roll inside. I figured if a spanking hurt that bad, I certainly didn’t want to experience the fires of hell, which I knew I deserved because I was such a dirty, rotten, filthy sinner, as my father was apt to say often. After all, I disobeyed my parents and I told lies about my disobedience. I think that was the extent of my sins at age five, but I was not wanting to go to hell, and so I confessed my sins and asked Jesus to come into my heart and save me.
Most of my Sunday School class had gotten saved, and almost all of us were at the creek to be baptized. It started out being just Nathaniel, I believe, but once Nathaniel expressed his desire to be baptized, we suddenly all wanted to be baptized. Ivan, our Sunday School teacher, was proud of us, and we talked about baptism in Sunday School for a few weeks before the baptism.
“Remember,” Ivan said, “baptism does not save you. It’s the next step after you are saved, an act of obedience, a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It’s very important, but that’s all it is. It does not make you a Christian.”
The entire church drove the twenty or so minute drive out to the creek. I was wearing a denim skirt and a button down ivory top with tiny red flowers on it. We didn’t have baptismal robes at this church, and so we wore our regular clothes. Some of the fancy fundamentalist church had baptismal robes, though. We were not fancy, we were a small-town church.
When it was my turn to walk down into the water to meet Pastor Warren, I suddenly panicked about being saved, and when I thought about it, I really didn’t feel saved, and so, as I entered the water, I prayed desperately in my head: Dear God, I’m sorry for my sins. Please come into my heart and save me. Pastor Warren held a handkerchief up to my nose, and I shook in fear, because I was terrified of being immersed into the water.
“Katy, upon your profession of faith, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, buried in the likeness of his death, and raised to walk in newness of life.” I freaked out when he immersed me, but I tried to calm myself, because after all, I was obeying God. This was part of my submission to God. As I emerged from the water, Pastor Warren instructed everyone to sing, and they sang, in unison:
“I have decided, to follow Jesus, I have decided, to follow Jesus, I have decided, to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”
I said many versions of the sinner’s prayer over the years because I never felt saved. It was usually after I had committed some particularly heinous sin, like having a crush on someone.
I had also listened to Abba, Alice Cooper and Elvis Presley and kept them hidden between the mattress and my bed. There were also some fashion magazines hidden there because I was not allowed to have those either, even though I was seventeen. The year I was seventeen was the last year I qualified to go to youth camp for a week in the summer, where American college students from a fundamentalist college came to Australia to be counselors. My counselor was talking about the wickedness of rock music.
“Seriously, these bands even have ridiculous names.” Shae said. “I mean, come on. A band named Korn?” I shifted uneasily, knowing that listening to rock music in secret was one of my pet sins. “Also, if you play the songs from most of these bands, but especially bands like KISS, the songs are worship songs to Satan.”
So that evening, I had a conversation with Shae.
“Shae, I struggle with rock music. I don’t even think I’m saved.” I said to her.
“Well, you’ve grown up in a Christian family, you know what you need to do,” Shae said. “How about we pray together?” We sat down on one of the log benches, and put our prayer journals aside, and I began to pray:
“Dear Lord Jesus, I’m so sorry for all of my sins. I repent of my sins. Please come into my heart and save me from hell.”
Being saved again meant being baptized again, but I waited for two years, until I moved before I did it.
“Brother Barry,” I said to the pastor. “I want to be baptized.”
“Great,” Brother Barry said. “We are planning for a baptism soon. Prepare your testimony and we will baptize all of you on the same day.” I hadn’t shared my “testimony” when I was baptized when I was ten, but I was older now and I suppose that’s why people wanted to hear it.
That baptism occurred in the private swimming pool of one of the families in the church. I wasn’t as scared this time, although I was still afraid of deep water, Brother Barry was standing in the shallow end, and I could see the bottom of the pool because the water was clear. The church used the baptism as an excuse to have a potluck lunch, in celebration of the baptisms. We ate the lunch before we moved on to the baptism. I shared my testimony with the church members that were gathered around.
Brother Barry also explained that baptism did not make you a Christian.
“Remember, baptism is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. God asks us to be baptized, and so we do so in obedience to God. It does not save you or make you a Christian.” This had never actually made sense to me, but I accepted it as was told.
Then we went down into the water. This time, I was the last one baptized, because Brother Barry wanted to baptize the children first. I stepped down the steps into the pool, and made my way over to where Brother Barry stood, the sleeves of his blue dress shirt rolled up. He, too, put a handkerchief over my nose which he held there with one hand, and baptized me with the other.
“I baptize you now in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” He dunked me under the water, until I was fully immersed, and the brought me right back up. “Raised from baptism to walk in newness of life.” As I walked back up the steps out of the pool, one of the women grabbed my hand to help, and when I got to the top, she put a towel around me, and everybody else began to sing:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
Crying, I sat in the front row of the church, pouring my guts out to Brother Harvey. My husband was beside me because Brother Harvey didn’t think that women should ask questions of the pastor without their husbands present, and their husbands were the ones that had to initiate the conversation because women were to learn in silence from their husbands as part of their submission. After all, the King James Bible clearly said so. Brother Harvey had been preaching through the book of Revelation, which he was taking literally and that literally scared the shit out of me.
“I’m not sure that I’m saved.” I told him.
“Go home, and read the Gospel of John, because the Gospel of John says that it was written that you might believe. Read it through carefully, and then read it again, and again, and let the Lord speak to you.” Brother Harvey counseled me.
I went home, and that night, completely devoured the Gospel of John. The next day, I read through it again, twice. My stomach was in huge knots and I felt nauseous. I didn’t want to be caught unprepared if the rapture were to happen right now. Somehow, during those three readings of the Gospel of John, I came to the conclusion that I was not saved, and so, when my husband got home from work, I cried and I told him, and asked him to kneel with me beside the bed, while I asked Jesus to come into my heart and save me for about the hundredth time. I just knew that this time, it would stick.
After I was done, I called Brother Harvey.
“Hi Brother Harvey. I’m calling you to let you know that I found out through reading John that I wasn’t saved, and I just got saved!” I said excitedly.
“That’s wonderful,” Brother Harvey said.
“I’ve already been baptized twice, but I know I need to do it again since I actually got saved.”
“Yes, you do,” Brother Harvey said. “And it needs to be very public, since people already thought you were a Christian.”
“I understand that,” I said. “What are we going to do about it?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it,” he said.
Wednesday night prayer meeting rolled around, and we always went. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and whenever else the church doors were open, we were there, with our small children in tow. People shared their prayer requests, and then Brother Harvey asked if anybody else had anything to say, and he looked directly at me, so I raised my hand, and he called on me.
“I just wanted to let everybody know that I got saved on Monday. I know you all thought I was a Christian, and so did I. I did not mean to be deceptive, but I realize now that I was.” I said. Rachel, my best friend at the time, embraced me, and told me how happy she was for me.
Brother Harvey’s idea of a public baptism where the most members would be present, was to do it at the Easter service, which was fine by me. As the Easter service drew to a close, Brother Harvey announced the baptism.
“The person getting baptized today is Katy-Anne. She got saved a few weeks ago, after spending years thinking she was saved. Katy-Anne, please leave the service and go prepare for baptism.” I walked out of the service as they began the final hymn, to get changed into some more casual, but extremely modest, clothes. I was wearing culottes with autumn leaves on them, and a plain shirt that matched.
I met the crowd in the parking lot, where a cattle trough had been filled with water for the baptism. Brother Harvey stood outside the cattle trough, and I climbed in. He said a few words that I don’t remember, and then I did the baptism thing for the third time.
My priest jokingly told me that if there ever really was a rapture, which neither of us believe in, that I am certainly covered.