Then, the people standing, one of the Ministers shall say: Hear the words of the Gospel, written by Saint Mark, in the tenth chapter, beginning at the thirteenth verse.
People. Glory be to thee, O Lord.
They brought young children to Christ, that he should touch them; and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Let the little children come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say to you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them and blessed them.
People. Praise be to thee, O Christ. - Book of Common Prayer, Canada
Mom and Dad grew up in the Methodist Church, so when the Air Force moved us to Altus, Oklahoma, I don’t know why they didn’t go to the big white Methodist Church that looks like a courthouse. Instead we went across the street to the red brick First Baptist Church of Altus, Oklahoma. It was a pretty big church too. Lots of people here in Oklahoma are Baptists. They even had a TV ministry for those who can’t make it to services on Sunday.
Services started and ended with gospel hymns, the ones like “I Surrender All” and “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling” came at the end of the service when the pastor called out for people to come down to the pulpit and kneel on the stairs that lead up to the stage and pray with someone from the church staff. Every week the front pews held a fresh supply of Kleenex and decision cards with little boxes to check: Salvation, Baptism, Rededication, Church Membership, Other. At the end of the hymns, after all the verses and choruses and repeats, the people who made decisions and rededications were introduced to the church and everyone would clap and show their support.
One Sunday at the end of the service, while the preacher was urging us to listen to the Spirit of God and come down to the front to be saved, to make a public profession of faith in God, I nudged my mom. I had already prayed with her, now it was my turn to go down and publicly profess my faith. Though my prayer hadn’t happened in a church service, I was a Christian now, too, and I wanted to be baptized.
I marched to the front, my mother’s hand guiding my little shoulders, which were thrown back with pride. The assistant pastor met us at the first pew and pulled out the little white decision card as he sat down next to us on the pew. I looked him in the eyes, nervous and excited.
“So how can I help you tonight, little lady?” He asked.
I looked to my mom and she nodded.
“I’m a Christian now, and I want to publicly profess my faith and be baptized.”
He nodded slowly as he listened to me. He looked to my mom and she nodded again, smiling. There was white spittle in the corners of his flat, gray lips as he opened his mouth again. “Well, darlin’, that’s wonderful. I’m so glad that you’ve prayed and accepted Jesus into your heart. Now, here at First Baptist,” here he looked over at my mom then back to me, “we have a policy of waiting until a child is seven years old, the Age of Accountability, before we allow them to be baptized.”
I looked at him and blinked. Pastor’s words made me feel like I’d done something wrong, like the day I had raised my hand in class to help fix the sentence on the board that had secret mistakes. The teacher had called on me.
“The M in mother should be capitalized,” I declared confidently.
“No, Laura, ‘mother’ isn’t always capitalized. If it comes after my then it doesn’t have a capital M.”
My face had felt hot. I thought of all the hard-working, laundry-folding mothers in the world who deserved more respect from their children, at very least a capital M.
And that day in church, I peered back up at the balding pastor feeling just the same thing. It wasn’t fair. I was five years old and I was saved. I had prayed my prayer like anybody else in the church. I wanted to be baptized. I looked back at my mother, my eyebrows pinching together as I thought about it. She bent down to whisper, “I’m sorry, Laura, I didn’t know that’s what they’d say.” I looked down, pulling nervously at the thick blonde hairs on my arm as he checked the box “Salvation” on his white card. Then he checked “Other.”
Note: Laura Werezak will be presenting her IPIAT Holy Mysteries: Readings in Spiritual Autobiography on April 7, 2011 in the Regent College Chapel.