Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My First Baptism

photo credit: Lawrence OP St John Baptising the Lord via photopin (license)

I was baptized on 11 June 2017. I had never been baptized before.

For those who know me as a Christian, this will sound somewhat preposterous. However, I grew up in The Salvation Army, one of the few denominations that does not observe sacraments. They feel (as I still do) that the sacraments represent an outward sign of the change and relationship one has with God and with others.

While I was at Asbury, the university I attended, I found it quite interesting, listening to Baptists and Methodists argue with each other about how to baptize. Methodists tend to just sprinkle with water while Baptists insist that full immersion was necessary. The seminary I attended, Grace Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Grace Brethren movement, advocate a triune baptism:  full immersion three times, one for each person of the Trinity.

So, when I was asked by fellow Christians how we baptize in The Salvation Army, I normally replied, "We dryclean." (This was normally precipitated by a long discourse about how The Salvation Army was a Christian denomination, despite the military overtones and jingoistic jargon.)

So why was I baptized? Many of you might have been familiar with my long struggle with acceptance in The Salvation Army. Since I started to question some long held tenets of The Salvation Army, I was no longer welcome as an officer (clergy) and a soldier (laity). I had to fight to be transferred to my local denomination. Even though I won the transfer of my membership, it was a bitter victory. I simply did not feel welcomed anymore.

I will grant this to my former officers (pastors): They did try to make amends for what happened and I have forgiven them; however, my beliefs of inclusivity with the LGBT community would not allow me to have a voice anymore in any capacity in The Salvation Army.

So I searched for a Church that would accept me as a bisexual person and where I could grow spiritually. I suddenly recalled a wonderful provocative speech from a Springfield pastor, the Reverend Dr. Phil Snider. I remembered watching this video when I was still an officer in Michigan. I felt that if this person had a congregation so close to me in Springfield, Missouri, then I would definitely want to check this church out.

This was the video I saw:

I came to the Church and was immediately welcomed with open arms. They listened to my story and didn't even flinch or blink when I explained that I was bisexual. When I told them my story, they loved me. All of them.

I told Phil that if ever I were looking to design a Church, it would look exactly Like Brentwood Christian Church.

I tendered my resignation as a soldier of The Salvation Army. That was very difficult to do. It represented my whole life of ministry and upbringing and 4 generations of continual membership in one form or another.

I started playing some of my favorite band music as I grieved that loss, but something better awaited me:


One thing prevented me from being a full member of Brentwood:  I needed to be baptized.  I had never been baptized before. They would have even accepted a baptism from another church. However, since that had never happened to me, I felt that I could do this. The Disciples of Christ also do not believe that the form is necessary for salvation, but that it does represent my commitment to follow Jesus.

One thing I also realized:  the sacraments are extremely important at Brentwood. My conclusion on the matter is this:  since so many of their members had been shunned by other churches, especially those in the LGBT community, they were denied that fellowship through sacraments. To find a church that will allow them to celebrate the sacraments as a full member is life-changing.

So the day of my baptism came. I was nervous. I had no idea what to wear or to do. They thankfully heated the baptismal for me. I was provided with a robe to wear, too.

I may or may not have felt like this little boy getting baptized:

Also, I may or may not have had this song in my head before getting baptized. (Caution, NSFW as it is from the Book of Mormon.)

(The above video might be another reason why The Salvation Army does not perform baptisms.)

In all honesty, though, when the baptism came, I was overwhelmed by what happened.

My children came to witness me being baptized. I was so glad they were there.

Before being baptized, the Reverend Phil Snider introduced me with the following words:

Among many things, baptism symbolizes newness of life, a fresh start, a cleansing of heart, soul and mind from all that tries to take life from us. Tim is being baptized today as a reflection of his commitment to follow in the way of Christ. He's not a new Christian -- He's been a Christian for many years and exhibits deep Christian character. So much so that, a couple of years ago, when he made the pastoral decision to affirm LGBTQ persons, he was told he could no longer serve in the same capacity as a minister in his former church. But we are here this morning, standing with Tim, as we celebrate his Christian witness and his expression of love for all God's people. We celebrate his desire to follow in the way of Christ's unconditional love. And recalling that baptism is an ancient symbol that marks us as Christians -- as followers of Jesus -- and that celebrates our identity as one joined in the life, death, resurrection, and unconditional love of Christ, I now baptize you, Tim, in the name of the Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost.

Despite the water, I began to cry a little after being baptized. I was humbled by the love and acceptance I felt. The acceptance and love that had been denied to me was once again extended to me.

Baptism means more to me than just salvation. It now means love and acceptance.