A first for Methodist me

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In recent years “Mission Trips” have become a popular summer experience for youth groups in various churches.
The idea is to get a bunch of teenagers to channel their energies into a week or so of traveling somewhere where they can live and work and help people and spread a bit of Christianity by example and The Word.
It is a great idea.
Some groups go far away – Central America – others stay closer to home.  This summer my baby girl, Anna, age 17, and the Point Washington Methodist Youth went to New Orleans.
“I’ll chaperon” I volunteered when I heard the news.
She thought for a minute, then betraying wisdom beyond her years, replied, “My Daddy chaperoning Methodist Youth to New Orleans?  What’s wrong with this picture?”
She knows me well.
So off they went, and for a week they settled into the fellowship hall of a New Orleans church, slept on the floor, rose early to work with local social service agencies in what was the most violent section of the most violent city in the United States – something which, if I had known it at the time, would have made me think again about sending my “princess” into “darkest N‘awlins.”
However,  as many came back as we sent, and a few weeks later the group reported their mission to the congregation assembled.
They told of how they worked with people in nursing homes, helped people with physical and mental disabilities, and in a safe environment brought games and good times to inner city children.  It was one of those presentations that gives folks faith in a future populated by such kids.
When we arrived that Sunday I noticed in the church bulletin that at the end of the Youth presentation there would be a baptism.
I  like Methodist baptisms because they are such a joyous occasion.  The proud parents, grandparents, siblings, Godparents, and extended family gather at the alter while the baby is handed over to the preacher who dribbles a little water on its head and presents the child of God to the congregation.
I also like Methodist baptisms because they don’t leave much time for anything else so we might get out early – a holdover from my childhood days when longwinded preachers kept me from lunch and my playmates.
In the small town where I grew up, baptisms were important for another reason.
At an age when theology meant little to me, churches could be distinguished by whether you were sprinkled (Methodist) or dunked (Baptist).  We also had a Catholic church in our village, but what went on there was a mystery to Protestant boys, so the Methodist-Baptist, sprinkled-dunked distinction was the only one we cared about.
With that memory in mind, I settled in to hear the Methodist youth tell of their adventures in the Crescent City, which they did to the general approval of all.
Then the preacher announced that the baptism would take place down at the Bay.
Now our Methodist Church is located on the south side, east end of Choctawhatchee Bay. It used to be where loggers stacked the longleaf pine for shipment north to build the towns and cities of the New South.  There is not much there today – the church, the mansion built by the timber baron (now a state park), the elementary school that serves the neighborhoods around there, a public boat ramp and a couple of piers.
Since it was only about 300 yards from the church to the water, everybody walked.  When we got there, the preacher and youth minister waded in with the two Methodist youth who were the object of the excursion.  Before he got started the preacher invited anyone else who wanted Baptism to join them – a good move I learned later for they had done this before and once a woman, moved by the moment, shed her Methodist reserve (but kept everything else on) and waded into the middle of it.
Out on the Bay a lone fisherman watched.  Over near the reeds a mullet jumped.
For a moment I forgot where I was and wished I had my cast net.
Then the two young people were dunked.
And the line I once drew between Methodists and Baptists was washed away.
Now being a Methodist  and as such not very excitable, I restrained myself and made no fuss over what was for me a new experience. However, I could not help but wonder what my “former Baptist” wife thought of the whole thing.
On the walk back I asked her.
She considered the question and replied that it was the only time she had ever seen a Baptism outside of a church.
So it was a day of “firsts” for both of us.
I can’t wait to see what will happen next.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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