Renewing the faith through baptism Methodists 'reborn' in Gunpowder River

September 19, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

A white-robed Andrew Day, 9, trudged into the Gunpowder River, slipping on the muddy bottom before he grabbed his pastor's welcoming hands last Sunday.

"I want to get baptized," Andrew said. "In a way, I will be a different person."

Observed his mother, "He is going to dunk himself before he gets there."

Andrew made it to the middle of the river without mishap. The child wrapped both hands confidently around the pastor's right wrist.

"By the profession of your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit," said the Rev. Michael W. "Mike" Miller.

Mr. Miller held Andrew firmly as he plunged the child under the water and brought him to the surface in one quick motion.

Laurie Day, 7, followed her brother into the water.

"They accepted the Lord and asked to be baptized," said Ms. Day of her two children.

When Jim Day asked his daughter if she was "scared when he put your head under water," the child answered "no way" without hesitation.

The children and nine other members of the Alesia Free Methodist Church in Millers participated in an old-fashioned baptism at the river.

"Pastor Mike," as his congregation has nicknamed him, had

taught several classes in preparation for the ritual, which participants joined voluntarily.

Before the ceremony, the candidates had met at their church in northern Carroll County.

The church van was "filled to the brim," said the pastor as he led a small procession of cars as far along Gunpowder Road as possible.

The group then trekked another half-mile along the river trail to a shallow spot.

The candidates chatted amiably as they walked hand in hand to the river's edge. The walk was the beginning of their profession of faith, their pastor said.

"Baptism is a sacrament, a following in the footsteps of Christ," Mr. Miller said. "By going through baptism, we are obeying Christ. God works through our obedience."

Jonathan Fowler, 9, laughed as his father explained the baptism.

"To get our sins washed away," said Jim Fowler. "So far away they will never come back."

Bill Rouser, who was baptized along with his wife, Jean, took credit for finding the "perfect place for a baptism."

"I took a day horseback riding up and down the river until I found it," he said.

He dug "steps" into the steep hillside Sept. 11 and placed "steadying" stones on the river bottom.

The pastor, wearing heavy black boots and waterproof jogging pants under his clerical black robe and white stole, took the first plunge into the chilly river. He gave last-minute instructions to the white-robed candidates gathered along the shore.

The water swirled gently around him as he asked for "Shall We Gather at the River." The crowd sang, filling in their memory lapses with a soft hum.

Christina Cook, 11, fretted after a tumble down the hill left her with a muddy gown.

"Don't worry," said Mr. Miller with a laugh. "We will wash that off in a minute."

First in line, Tiffanay Fowler, 14, waded into the water and knelt gingerly on the muddy river bottom beside the pastor.

"It's cold," she said.

Her pastor poured two handfuls of water over her head. His folded hands rested on her crown as he intoned the traditional words of baptism. The worshipers affirmed those words with a hearty "Amen."

Joyce and Jim Fowler, who were married at the church recently, knelt together -- waist-deep in water.

They held hands and bowed their heads during their individual baptisms.

While the four adult candidates chose the pouring, many children, like Andrew and Laurie, opted for total immersion.

"It's not the amount of water but the position of the heart," said the minister.

Krystal Fowler, 13, said choosing baptism made the ceremony more meaningful for her.

"When you are a baby, they just baptize you and you don't know," she said. "This is better because we are doing the choosing."

Jim and Joyce Fowler said seeking baptism was entirely the children's idea.

"They came to us and we decided to join them," said Mr. Fowler.

Many of the adults looked on the ceremony as a second chance.

"We baptize anyone who has strayed away or is uncomfortable with the baptism they have had," said Mr. Miller. "We thank God for the work he is doing through this sacrament."

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