Pause. The closing notes of the well-worn hymn were cut off prematurely. Ben stepped away from the CD player and addressed his congregation.
“Friends, we come now to the central part of today’s baptismal service. I should like to invite our first candidate to come to the front. Let’s give our sister Barbie a warm round of applause.”
Ben watched nervously as Barbie made her way down into the water tank. It was the first time he had ever conducted a baptism and there were so many things that could go wrong. For instance, he couldn’t help noticing that the girl’s baptismal gown had turned semi-transparent on contact with the water. It certainly wasn’t his fault, but some of the older members would be sure to tut-tut later on.
“Sister Barbie,” he said, “do you confess the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour?”
Ben coughed nervously. Every eye was fixed on the young woman half-submerged in the middle of the tank. No one spoke a word. The girl was normally an exhibitionist, always hogging the limelight. Thus her sudden reticence was unnerving.
“This is the time for you to share your testimony...”
Ben’s prompting was given in a stage whisper but Barbie stood there motionless, a plastic smile moulded on her lips.
Frantic now, Ben looked to the front row where the woman’s husband was sitting. Ken stared intently at his wife, urging her to comply with the pastor’s request, but unwilling, unable even, to shout out any words of encouragement.
Close to panic, Ben decided to wing it. “An unfortunate case of laryngitis,” he announced. “But, praise God, I was close enough to hear her whispered admission.”
Grabbing the girl by the shoulders, he plunged her into the water. “Upon confession of your faith,” he intoned, “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The declaration seemed to take forever and Ben started to worry that he might end up drowning his first ever baptismal candidate.
Barbie was fine – physically. In terms of cosmetic beauty, she was a mess. Her normally golden locks hung bedraggled. Her make-up had run and water dripped off the end of her nose.
It was at this moment that Ben noticed his mistake: the crown of the girl’s head was still dry! Did it matter? He didn’t know. Was the baptism valid? Had anyone else noticed? God would know, of course, but would he be bothered?
Better to not take the risk. Without so much as an ‘excuse me’ he unceremoniously thrust the young woman back under the water. Moments later, reassured that she was now properly sanctified, Ben led his unresponsive congregation in a loud Hallelujah.
The door opened.
“Ben, what ever are you up to?”
“Nothing, Mum,” he replied.
The woman’s voice suddenly went up two semi-tones. “And what are you doing with your sister’s dolls?”
“Just practising, Mum.”
“Practising?” Mystified, she cast her eye over the neatly arranged rows, the front containing all of her daughter’s dolls, the back Ben’s collection of Transformers. “Practising for what?”
“In case Dad’s still sick tomorrow. It’s too late to cancel the baptismal service, so I thought maybe I could stand in for him.”
Her response was emphatic and non-negotiable: “Ben Watson, get this mess tidied up this minute! Or your bottom will be so sore that standing is the only thing you will be able to do.”
Muttering to himself, ten-year-old Ben fished the sodden doll out of the baby bath. Shaking her dry, he laid Barbie on the ground and covered her with a hand towel. Glancing quickly through the open doorway, he checked that his mother was out of ear-shot. Then, addressing his as yet undispersed congregation, he pronounced the words of committal:
“For as much as it has pleased Almighty God to take the soul of our dear sister ... ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
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