Boldness surged through my continuously-in-motion being as I charged through the kitchen door after school. Exclaiming to my mother who was pregnant with her seventh child in ten years, “I saw Jesus today and I have to be baptized!” In lengthy colorful detail, I explained every reason why I had to be baptized and why it had to be next Sunday. My mother’s response was what it had been on many occasions in my childhood that we would wait until my Dad arrived home from work and then talk with him.
Later that evening, I pleaded with my Dad and Mom about how important it was for me to be baptized, “Just like Jesus” (Matthew 3:16-17). After more parental discussion, it was decided I was “too young to make a decision that important and I would have to wait until I was older.” Although, I was respectful to my parents, determination welled up in me from the bottom of my feet to the top of the chestnut brown curls covering my head. I was going to be baptized! I didn’t know how, but I was!
The following Sunday at church, as we were going through the Reverend’s reception line, impulsively I decided that I would ask Reverend Elving if he would baptize me. Without warning my parents and interrupting their conversation, I inserted very quickly, “I want to be baptized and my Dad and Mom think I am too young, so will you baptize me?” He looked at my parents, looked at me, looked at my parents again and then looked at me again, smiling with a contemplative expression he said to my parents, “We have a discipleship class, here at the church on Wednesday afternoon. I would like to suggest that Jennie attend the class. When we are sure that she understands what it means to be baptized, then we will discuss the possibility of her baptism at that time.”
His statement brought complete relief to my anxiety and fear, as I sighed in relief. Then my Dad explained that we only had one car, which he used for work and they did not have a way to provide transportation for me to attend the class. He kindly thanked the Reverend for his thoughtfulness, shook his hand, and began walking out the church door.
“No! No! No! It cannot be!” I thought, tears welling up in my eyes. Knowing that I would get into trouble if I interrupted the adult conversation above my head again, chewing on my lip, I waited impatiently. Somehow, I had to go to this class, so my parents would let me be baptized. Wondering what to do next and not having any answers, anxiously I waited for the grown-ups to finish their discussion.
Reverend Elving asked my parents, “What if I provide transportation for Jennie?” Reaching down, his large warm hand enveloped mine. Saying that he would be glad to come and pick me up and take me home so that I could attend the discipleship class. My parents agreed, and I left the First Baptist Church that Sunday happier than I could ever remember being.
The long winter came and went with the usual rainy, stormy weather of the Willamette Valley. As he promised, Reverend Elving was at Mohawk Elementary School on Wednesday afternoons driving a little blue Volkswagen Bug (Beetle). Regardless of the weather or his schedule, he never failed me.
After class, he drove forty-five minutes to take me home, patiently listening to an eight-year-old child’s endless questions. For about six months, I attended the discipleship class and continued to press the issue of baptism. During this time of waiting, we celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my 9th Birthday. Often the anticipated event of my baptism crossed my mind. Even though I was the youngest in the discipleship class, faithfully, I turned in weekly lessons because I was determined to demonstrate that I did know what it meant to be baptized.
As anticipated, spring arrived in the valley bringing the fragrant colors of red tulips, white crocuses, yellow daffodils and blue hyacinths. My baby sister was born on the first day of March, almost a leap-year baby. Four weeks later, my parents gave me permission to make my public commitment to Jesus Christ. On Palm Sunday, my family sat in the back of the church because of having a new baby, we did not sit in our regular pew. Therefore, the walk down the aisle was much longer than I had mentally planned. Aisles are quite a bit longer when you are just nine years old. Reverend Elving smiled as I walked to the front of the church to confess Jesus Christ as my LORD and Savior, while the congregation sang the invitational hymn, Just as I Am. To this day, I remember the sound of my patent leather Sunday-School shoes tapping the polished wood floor. Intentionally, I walked with purposed, even steps, being very careful not to scuffle or make any unnecessary noise.
The First Baptist Church always served Communion (The Lord’s Supper) the first Sunday of each month. It was very exciting to be able to take communion after I was baptized. For me, because the Disciples took communion with Jesus, I had to take Communion in order to be HIS disciple. It was of the utmost importance to me.
Dressed in our Sunday Easter outfits the following Sunday, April 10, 1960, my family of four sisters, two brothers, and my parents attended church in the morning. My twin sister, Jeannie and I wore matching pink-flowered, chiffon dresses with white cotton anklets (the kind that slipped down into your shoes) and black patent leather shoes buckled with a single strip across the top of our feet.
On the podium, near the lectern, a cross of roses stood. The cross was constructed from railroad ties wrapped with chicken wire. Early Easter Sunday morning (while the dew was still on the roses) families brought bouquets of roses from their gardens to completely cover the cross. It was breathtakingly beautiful. After Sunday morning service, we went home for Easter dinner and our family’s traditional Easter celebration.
Later in the afternoon, we drove back into town, Springfield, Oregon where the First Baptist Church was located for the evening baptismal service. At the age of nine, I was the youngest one being baptized (Matthew 19:13-15).
Dressed in a white baptism tunic, I felt very safe and sure when Revered Elving called my name to enter the water. Cautiously, I stepped down the slippery cement stairs adjusting to the cooler temperature of the water. Standing next to him, I placed the folded white handkerchief over my nose and mouth as I had been instructed. I heard him say as he lowered me into the water, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:18-20). What I noticed when I first came up out of the water was the overwhelming fragrance of the roses. Shivering, I stood in the water as Revered Elving welcomed me into the family of God.
The sanctuary lights were dimmed and a single spot light, along with my heart, focused on the Cross of Roses.