Susan Shinn Turner: A reaffirmation
In November 2016, My Beloved asked me four questions: would I marry him, would I move to Raleigh, would I change my name, and would I be baptized?
To the first two questions, I said “yes” right away. I hesitated about changing my name, because let me tell you, I changed it once before, then I had to change it back, and boy, was it a pain in the neck.
But then he looked at me and said, “I would really like you to change your name.”
And being all in love and googly-eyed, I said, “OK.”
Then I spent three hours at the Social Security office and two at the DMV I’ll never get back. Just sayin’.
To the last question, the answer was a solid NO.
“I’ve already been baptized,” I said.
I may have had a tiny little meltdown after that.
I can explain. I was Lutheran and my husband was a member of a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregation. The Lutherans sprinkle. The Baptists immerse. I didn’t see any need to repeat the process. I felt God and I were on the same page with this.
Fast forward to 2019.
Since January, I have been struggling with overwhelming depression and anxiety. My husband watched over me when I slept for days at a time. He did the laundry, went to the grocery store, fed me. It was bad, but with the help of my family and friends, my counselor and psychiatrist — and the correct medications at the correct dosage — I’ve finally dug out the past couple of weeks.
And I started thinking. Maybe I should commit to my husband the way he committed to me.
I met with the pastor of his church and told him the same thing. I’ve been attending for the past two and a half years, so we were not strangers but friends. He honored the fact that I’d already been baptized, and he told me something else.
You have to be born again, and again, and again.
That made sense to me.
“So when would you like to be baptized?” he asked, like the good Baptist preacher he is.
We started looking at dates.
“How about Aug. 11?” he asked.
That was my grandmother’s birthday, so that seemed like a good date to me.
He presented me to the congregation on Aug. 4, and I received lots of hugs and handshakes and warm wishes after the service that day. The congregation reminds me a lot of my home church in Salisbury, St. John’s — folks just fall all over themselves to greet you and make you feel welcome.
St. John’s senior pastor, Rhodes Woolly, calls it “extravagant hospitality.” It is.
Aug. 11 came. I went to church early to meet with Hayes Barton’s senior pastor, Dr. David Hailey. He just walked me through what would happen. I’d walk into the baptismal pool, turn around and face the way I’d come. He’d ask me a few questions, send me under the water, and that would be it. Since I’d already been baptized, this would be a reaffirmation of my baptism. He framed the questions as such, which I appreciated.
My parents were unable to make the trip, but they joined via livestream, and the church’s associate pastor, Kristen Muse, acknowledged them during the announcements. They followed the service and participated at home. They very much felt a part of it, Mother said afterward. She was raised a good Baptist so this decision was especially meaningful for her.
Becky, one of the members of the Baptism Committee, met me and took me upstairs to help me put on a robe and wait with me until it was time for the ordinance of baptism. She had been Baptist, married an Episcopal and enjoyed the rituals of that denomination. But when her husband died, she returned to the Baptist church. A lovely person.
In just a few minutes, Dr. Hailey motioned me into the water.
I wondered what was in that water. I wondered what I would find there. I wondered if I would feel changed.
Water is so important to our lives. We need it every day to survive. We drink it, we wash with it, we cook with it. And we use it in the church as part of the ritual of baptism — no matter how much we use.
Dr. Hailey asked me these questions: “Do you reaffirm your belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the World?” “Do you now also reaffirm your desire to follow Christ as the Lord of your life, and give loyal devotion to his church?”
To each I responded, “I do.”
Then he said, “I baptize you, my sister, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” I made the sign of the cross, which is my personal tradition, and he gently sent me under the water.
It was only for a moment, but it was for an eternity. I was connected with Christians around the world, and I was connected with Jesus, who went down not only went into the water but up onto the cross.
I came up out of the water. I was changed, I was refreshed, I was renewed.
“Amen,” Dr. Hailey said. “God Bless You.”