Funny stuff that happened to me as a pastor (Part 2)…

Yet another beach baptism and being washed up to shore…

I hope one baptism story after another isn’t boring you. Or worse, if you’ve not yet taken the plunge, I trust that I’m not dissuading you from it. I say in all seriousness, that baptism is not only a command of Jesus for true followers of His, but it’s a huge blessing and dynamic experience for those who choose to follow him. If you have a genuine relationship with Jesus, I strongly urge you to be baptized ASAP. Study the Scriptures about it, talk to your pastor, gather some people, and do it!

But there are some funny things that happen even during serious moments. This, in my humble opinion, is one of them. When telling the story of my first beach baptism, I mentioned that there are several factors to take into consideration when performing this unique pastoral task. Of course there’s the weather to consider. If it’s rainy or just dog-cold, you might want to find another day or an indoor location. But there are factors, which only the ocean aficionado would be able to help you assess. I’ve found that the best person to have with you on the day of a beach baptism is at least one seasoned surfer (a lifeguard wouldn’t hurt as well). While the commercial fisherman or sailor have a grasp on what happens out on the open sea, if you want to know what’s going to happen on the shore, in terms of the breaking waves and other dangerous eccentricities, these guys and gals who ride the waves on boards are gold. Don’t do a beach baptism without one! Your life (at least your dignity) may depend on it.

I first learned this when I decided that we’d do a baptism at a surf spot named after the nearby street, “26th Ave.” in the Pleasure Point area of Santa Cruz. It was convenient because we lived right down the street from this spot, and there were always lots of people on the beach, and thus great for calling attention to God and to his crazy people.  I had learned by then the lesson that you have to do things more quickly in the ocean than in a placid pool or baptistery. Otherwise, you might run into the embarrassing situation I described above of losing all your water while you wax eloquent before God and man.

On this particular day, it wasn’t an issue of not having enough water, but of having way too much. First of all, let me confess that I’m not a surfer myself. Though I’ve dabbled, watched a lot, and can talk the talk; I’m not a participant. I know when to insert the words, “gnarly” or “stoked” in the appropriate places in conversations, but I really don’t know the way of the waves like a true surfer.  Because of all the things that are going on at the shore of the ocean and the potential danger you’re facing, when you take this innocent baptizee out in your care, you want to have someone there with a clue about the best time and place to do the dunking.

On this particular day, I either had no such person (of the surfer type) or simply wasn’t aware my need for the counsel of one. We went to one of the worst locations for what we were trying to do. I mean, my first clue should have been that there was no one else in the shallow water just playing around – no one wading, no kids splashing around in the hip deep water. There were some surfers out a little deeper as I recall, but no one in the shallow. As I looked back at it later, I realized there was almost never such activity at that particular beach. No one ever just plays on the shore at 26th Ave. And there is a reason for that. Duh! The waves there can be fairly large at times, but they’re not the kind that you see coming for a long time. They kind of jut up quickly, form a nice barrel (another surf term I learned), provide a brief and exciting ride (I’m told), and then crash angrily on the sand (I’ve experienced that part first hand). You’re probably getting the idea what was about to happen.

We did the appropriate praying with the candidates along with about 30 people from our church on beach. I was saving the pronouncing of them officially baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for when we were in the water. Then I took our first brave soul, along with a helper out to the proper depth of water. We turned around to face the beach and our smiling onlookers. I began the pronouncement, “Based on your confession of faith in the Lord Jesus…” I noticed about half way through that the looks on the faces of our friends on the beach changed (always pray with your eyes open at a beach baptism). Their eyes seemed to enlarge, some with panic, others with hilarity. The next thing I remember is this huge shadow enveloping us from behind, accompanied by a moment of eerie silence, and then the ear-splitting crash. The three of us were covered, then lifted off our feet, then pounded down against the hard sandy bottom and washed up to shore right to feet of our laughing Christian brothers and sisters. They might’ve postponed the laughter until they saw us rise to our feet, but everyone joined in the amusement at that point. As we stood (three drenched and disheveled Christians), my baptizee exclaimed, “Wow! Was that it?!” I responded, “No way. I didn’t do the Father, Son and Holy Spirit part.” And we returned for another more effective, much quicker, and less eventful dunking.

Moral of the story – always bring a surfer to a beach baptism, and listen to their expert advice! (Why don’t they teach this stuff in Bible College?)

Flooding the church with baptismal water…

This is actually my first baptismal debacle. It didn’t happen at the beach, but in our very own church sanctuary baptistery in Chico, California. We had just finished the construction of a new church facility. Everything was new from carpet to candles, from basement to baptistery. It was Halloween night, a Saturday, and as Youth Pastor I was in charge of filling the baptistery for the following day. I entered the sanctuary, turned on the spigot (which rhymes with Wiget), and left for another part of the church property where we were having a college-age Harvest Party. (As Christians, we don’t celebrate Halloween per se. We just steal some of the traditions and of it and call it, “Harvest.”) Everyone was dressed in costume, and though I despise wearing costumes, I was dressed as a hobo. We were having a ball playing games, eating (have you ever noticed how much food is consumed at Christian events?), and just being silly. I was supervising the bobbing-for-apples game, when one of the bobbers was one of the young women (so really more of a “bobbette”) being baptized the next day. When she brought her wet face out of the water with an apple in her mouth, I thought of how ironic it was that in the next room the very next day she would be lifted even wetter from the waters of baptism in front of our congregation. This thought gave way to the realization that it had been a couple of hours since I had begun to fill the baptismal tank – the same one that only took about a half hour to fill!

I ran into the sanctuary hoping for the best, and what I saw was something very less than what could be considered on any planet, the “best.” Keep in mind that this facility had just been completed after years of personal sacrifice of the entire congregation. Water was everywhere! Well, let’s not exaggerate. It wasn’t everywhere. It was just covering the huge stage in the front of our place of worship, cascading down the steps, through the pews, into the return air ducts, and soaking the carpet in the two rooms adjacent to the stage. It might as well have been everywhere. I tore back into the other room to recruit everyone from the party to help sop up the water. Yes, I did stop first to turn off the water.

I called 2 elders, 3 deacons, and the Fire Department (I heard they had powerful water removal vacuums and stuff). I called everybody but the Senior Pastor. I just didn’t want to bother the man of God preparing for his sermon for the next day (or something like that). We looked a sight, all dressed in funky costumes, sopping, mopping, tearing back the new carpet to dry. The next day, of course, my stupidity was already legendary. The first person I encountered was the pastor’s wife coming up the walkway to the church. Evidently my invisible pills weren’t working, and when she saw me coming she burst out in uproarious and ear-splitting laughter. This woman had a great sense of humor and genuinely thought this was somehow comical. It would have been more bearable had she yelled at me or something.

As a follow-up to this story and to show you that even though many of my ministry debacles surrounded water baptisms, God does still love me and can (when He wants to) rescue me from at least a few (very few) embarrassing moments.

It was winter some years later in Santa Cruz, and though the ocean always beckons for a good public demonstration of how Jesus changes lives, it was just too cold to venture out to the beach. So I asked a fellow-pastor if we could use their church’s baptistery. He hospitably consented and hooked me up with a deacon who would loan me a church key and show me how to get the tank filled. He put the plug in the bottom, which was just like a bathtub plug. The thing didn’t have a chain or any other way to pull it out in order to drain it, so he told me you had to pull it up with your toe. (This has nothing to do with the story.  I just thought it was kind of curious.) He started the water and told me that since it took a couple of hours to fill, it would be just fine if I wanted to leave it, do some errands or whatever, and return to turn it off. I told him about my previous act of stupidity, and that if it was all the same to him, I’d stay and watch every drop go into that tank, and turn it off way before it even came close to the top. That’s exactly what I did, and do you know, that this thing was completely full in less than a half hour! If I had not had the prior experience of idiocy, and had taken this deacon’s advice, I would’ve flooded the sanctuary of someone else’s church!

The shepherd ropes the runaway sheep at Christmas…

I had seen a live Nativity scene at another church and thought it was a great idea. We too could have live Joseph, Mary, shepherds, real animals – the whole deal. We didn’t have our own church facility, the Lutherans were gracious enough to share, so with their permission we’d use their grounds for this simple yuletide scene. A couple of the men built a small barn-like structure (even though Jesus was probably born in a cave), we made up the cast from church members, and the only animals we could get to the scene that first year were a few sheep from the local 4-H Club.

The problem was, we were all pretty suburban, and knew little-to-nothing about sheep. Someone built a pen for them. These were full grown animals (at least they looked full grown to my keen agrarian eye), plump as could be. The pen seemed sufficient to all of us, about three and half feet high.

On the first night of the production I came to the scene. Everything was in place, ready to go, except for the sheep. The pen was empty and my key person, Michael, was missing. I inquired about him and the sheep, and I was told they (the sheep) had easily hopped out of the pen and Michael went after them. I was amazed at two things. First, that those fat animals could jump so high was totally unexpected. The sheep I always imagined and counted jumping over fences were so much skinnier. Secondly, I was shocked that it was Michael who went after them. He wasn’t really a farmer/rancher/animal-lover type. Michael was always well-dressed, never dirty, a more into malls than meadows kind of guy.

I asked which way they’d gone and went after them. Now, I too know nothing about sheep other than what I had read for sermons about them (they show up quite a bit in the Bible). I’m sure you’re seeing the irony of this – the shepherds out looking for their lost sheep. Yet another thing they didn’t prepare us for in Bible College! Jeff had also joined the sheep hunt, all of us with ropes in our possession. How else do you capture sheep? We were fresh out of sheep dogs. After trudging through a muddy hillside we found them. There they were, huddled together in someone’s back yard. And then we did it. We slipped ropes around their necks, tied knots that were certainly not the knot you’d use to rope a sheep. But since we didn’t know the official sheep knot, we did what we could. I’m not sure what the other guys imagined, but in my mind, these fat, yet nimble creatures were just going to obey the subtle tugs on the ropes and follow us home. That’s not exactly what happened.

Apparently, sheep don’t respond well to roping. At least these didn’t. (By the way, we never told this story to the 4-H people, so keep this quiet will you?) Their response was to heartily resist, and then to lie down with all four legs spread out. The more we pulled on the ropes, the more they objected, and the tighter the ropes around their necks became. That’s right. We put the ropes around their necks. Where would you have put them? Their stomachs were too large, and they don’t have but tiny tails. We had them by the throat, so to speak. But they didn’t seem to understand that it would be to their benefit to just go with us quietly – a nice loosely fitting noose is always better than a tight one. But what do sheep know? I’d been told they were dumb. Now I know it. The problem was I didn’t know what to do about it. I guess that makes me as dumb, or dumber, than they. (Way beyond irony – this is a parable of an ignorant shepherd taking stubborn sheep where they don’t want to go in a way that they don’t want to be taken! Sound like Church to you?)

Spiritual lessons aside, we still had to get the animals back to our serene nativity scene for show-and-tell. We were pulling, they were refusing, their eyes beginning to bug out. Since sheep don’t seem to make much noise (they weren’t growling or hissing or barking or anything), the only noise we could hear was them gasping for air as our ropes choked them. I thought at one point my sheep (the one I was tugging on) stopped breathing! I’m begging you, please don’t tell the 4-H, the SPCA, or any farmer-types about this. None of the animals died or were permanently damaged, other than a little post-traumatic stress.  Plus, I think the statute of limitations has passed, and we are no longer in jeopardy of prosecution.

We also learned that sheep don’t respond to reasoning, yelling, or cussing. I think I heard one of the other guys say a bad word. I myself only thought bad words, We pulled, we pushed, and we prayed. Inch by inch we made our way back to the site where the baby Jesus was waiting for his farm animals. We were filthy and the animals were exhausted. I think I heard one child ask his mother why the sheep looked sick. We added height to the pen (about another six feet). Now it looked more like a jail than a sheep pen. Everyone took their places. Serenity was restored and Jesus had animals at his birthday.

Do you remember how, after citing a bunch of Old Testament men and women of faith, the writer of  the book of Hebrews says, “If I had time, I’d tell you about…” and then he lists more examples of faith-filled people without elaborating on the details? Well, that’s what I’m going to do now. If I had time, I’d tell you about…

  • The youth camp and the puking teenager…
  • Another baptism and the woman in the white dress…
  • The old lady who jumped on my back…
  • Street ministry and the big snake in the man’s shirt…
  • The breastfeeding mother in the church service…
  • The time I preached against “sexual immortality”…
  • The time I preached a whole message on how “clams” make pearls …

These stories might just be funny to me. Sorry about that. But you have your own stories that make you laugh. Remember them, savor them, tell them, and laugh. It’s good for you.

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2 thoughts on “Funny stuff that happened to me as a pastor (Part 2)…

  1. Sean Johnson

    Hello, I am a pastor at a church in Indiana. May I please have permission to share your story about the baptism that was interrupted by the wave. I will attribute the story to you. Thanks!

    Reply

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