I did not keep track of how many baptisms I performed during my eighteen years of ministry. My best guess is that it was around one hundred. Using that as my number, 99% of them were done the usual, Lutheran way, in church, at the baptismal font.
One was not in church. No baptismal font was in view. But we had water at our disposal when Roland nodded his head that, yes, he wanted to be baptized.
Roland was known by all as Slim—and, I kid you not, his slimmer twin brother was called Fat—was in his seventies, had suffered a stroke, and found himself in a nursing home. His sister, Ann, was one of my congregation’s faithful members and, with her husband, Barney, a woman with whom I was very close.
Ann called me, concerned for her brother. Slim had never become a Christian. He’d never been baptized. Would I visit him?
A day or two later, I found Slim in his room. He was unable to speak much, but for basic communication. I can’t recall whether Ann met me in his room the first time. She likely did. I told Slim why I was there and of his sister’s concern. He reacted positively. Because of his stroke, I sort of had him cornered, but if he were not interested in my being there I would not have forced myself on him.
I asked if I might speak to him of the Christian faith. He nodded. That first day, I explained the very basics. A week or two later, I returned to cover some more. On my third visit, Ann and Barney planned to be there, along with Slim’s wife, Helen.
We were visiting in one of the day rooms at Huron County Medical Care Facility, next door to the hospital in the curiously named town of Bad Axe. (The tale goes that, back in the day, to mark a crossroads, someone stuck a broken axe into a tree. When the spot turned into the town, what else would anyone name it but Bad Axe?)
I had covered the vital aspects of the faith. I now rehearsed them with Slim so that I might ask him if he believed, if he recognized his sinfulness and His need for the Lord Jesus. Finally, I asked Slim if he wanted to be baptized.
To each question, Slim nodded in the affirmative. Ann beamed.
We were in need of water.
I spied a sink across the room. I said, “I’ve never done a baptism like this, but that spigot is just the right height so that, if we back up Slim’s wheelchair to it and have him tip his head back, I can baptize him right here. I know that it might not seem very holy, but because the Lord will work His promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation in His Word and the water, it will be just as holy as any baptism.”
Smiles abounded, so I went into action.
We got Slim backed up, lined up, and head back. Turning on the water so that I had a gentle flow, I dipped my hand into it and poured the water onto Slim, first speaking his proper full name, and then the familiar words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father (splash of water on his forehead, and of the Son (splash), and of the Holy Spirit (splash). Amen.”
That was in the spring of 2004. The next Christmas Eve, Slim fell asleep in Jesus.
At the funeral home in Kinde, I officiated Slim’s funeral, burying him as a Christian as if he’d been one his entire life, and joyously telling all of his family and friends the fun and happy story of how Ann took action on her brother’s behalf, and how Slim had been washed in Christ in a most unusual way.
Over the ten more years I was in Port Hope, on occasion Ann and I would reminisce about those days. Always with smiles on our faces. Always with joy in our hearts.