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What are you immersed in?

By Mike Ruffin In a recent service at the First United Methodist Church of Barnesville, Pastor Cyndi McDonald led us to remember our baptism. At the end of the service, she invited us to dip our hands in the water in the baptismal font as a way of doing so. During her excellent sermon, Pastor Cyndi explained that Methodists baptize in three ways: sprinkling (which requires just a little water), pouring (which requires more water), and immersion (which requires a lot of water). I’m a lifelong Baptist who often attends a Methodist church and often preaches in Presbyterian (PCUSA) churches. I used to be Southern Baptist, but now I identity with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I’ve often said that I was Baptist before I was Christian. A few of you will know what a Cradle Roll is. It was a big deal back in 1958 when I came along. When babies were born into a Baptist church, they were placed on the Cradle Roll, which meant they were enrolled in Sunday School. I can’t prove it, but I suspect someone was standing in the delivery room at the Lamar County Maternity Shelter to sign me up the second I entered the world. My mother would have wanted it that way. When Reverend Bill Coleman baptized me one Sunday night in 1966 (along with others, including my friend Debbie Smith Haywood and my distant cousins Bruce Swatts and Rudy Knight), it was by immersion, which is a fancy word for dunking. There’s a scene in the 1970 film Little Big Man in which a frontier preacher holds Dustin Hoffman’s character under the water for so long that he almost drowns. Preacher Bill didn’t do that to me, but he did dunk me thoroughly. Whenever I participate in a service in which we remember our baptism, I remember my first one. I was doing some continuing education at Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. During worship, we were invited to remember our baptism. I think I was the only Baptist among a bunch of Presbyterians and other Protestants. One of the Presbyterian ministers asked me what I as a Baptist thought about putting my fingers in the water to remember my baptism. I replied, ‘I found it very meaningful, but I did have to fight off the urge to jump into the bowl.’ I find it helpful to remember my baptism. It’s encouraging to remember the warm water enfolding me. I realize better now than I did then (and if I didn’t after the passing of fifty-three years, how sad would that be?) what the act symbolizes: I have been buried with Christ and raised to new life in him. What does it mean to be immersed in Christ’s death and resurrection of Christ? What does it mean to be buried with him and to be raised to new life in him? Surely it means that we are immersed in the love, mercy, and grace that Jesus embodied. Surely it means that we live in faith and in hope. Surely it means that we practice acceptance and inclusion. I don’t know what to think when I encounter baptized folks whose lives indicate that they are immersed in fear, in despair, in hate, in anger, and in prejudice. I don’t know Christ that way, and I don’t understand how someone can follow Christ in those ways. Don’t hear me wrong. No Christian fully follows Jesus all the time. We stumble and fall. We sin and fail. But surely we should always be growing toward living in the way our baptism points us toward. The water of baptism dries, but the effects of baptism continue. I hope my fellow believers and I will continue to grow in practicing Christ’s love, grace, mercy, faith, and hope. Mike Ruffin is a Barnesville native who lives in Yatesville and works in Macon. His latest book (co-authored with Judson Edwards), A Savior to Serve, is available at

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