I am sitting with my three friends, Gladys Graybill, Hazel Garber, and Millie Zimmerman near the pulpit in front of Bossler Mennonite Church to be baptized. At the prompting of our Bishop Clarence E. Lutz, we kneel, and as we kneel I hear the crinkle of the skirt of my caped dress. Mother and I have chosen a taffeta fabric for this special day – a dress made of tiny checks of navy, silver and white to set off my dark-haired braids now covered with a prayer veiling. The dress has a tiny collar with navy piping. I love that navy piping. Besides the silky fabric, this tiny decoration is the only fancy thing about this plain dress with a cape overlaying the bodice.
Since I made a spiritual decision in June, I have been wearing my hair in pigtails topped with a covering. For the first time since then, my braided hair has been pinned up around my head with hairpins in accordance with church rules. But today my prayer veiling has strings dangling from its two corners. Before the service, we have met in the church basement with the Bishop’s wife Elsie Lutz, who has requested that we girls wear strings of white satin ribbon attached the two corners of our coverings, I suppose for an extra measure of plainness. “Oh, you girls look so nice!” she gushes as she inspects our apparel, especially our heads, before we ascend the steps to the main sanctuary.
We three girls are ushered to the front where Bishop Lutz and Deacon John Kraybill wait with a basin of water and a white linen towel ironed smooth. We have been through a kind of catechism entitled “Instructions to Beginners in the Christian Life,” which includes a review of the tenets of faith, nonresistance to evil and nonconformity to the world, and the ordinances of Communion, Feet Washing, the Devotional Covering, the Holy Kiss, Anointing with Oil, and Marriage. The first ordinance is Baptism, which we are now ready to participate in with two “I do’s” and “I am (sorry for my sins), with a final “I do,” promising by the “grace of God, and the aid of the Holy Spirit, to submit [myself] to Christ and His Word, and faithfully to abide in the same until death.”
After prayer, we remain kneeling. And the Bishop, assisted by the Deacon who is holding a basin of water, takes a handful of water from the basin and pours it methodically three times in succession on the head of the applicant intoning the words: “I baptize thee with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” This statement is followed by the Bishop taking us by the hand and saying as we rise:
In the name of Christ and His Church I give you my hand. Arise! And as Christ was raised up by the glory of the Father, even so thou also shalt walk in newness of life . . .
The wives of the Bishop and the Deacon then give us the kiss of peace, and thus we are received into the church fellowship. The congregation in four-part harmony happily joins in the tradition of singing “O Happy Day” from the Mennonite Church Hymnal with shaped notes.
I remember this day so well. It was September 29, 1951, my sister Janice’s birthday.
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Earlier this month, our oldest grandson and only grand-daughter, Patrick and Jenna Dalton, were baptized at Highlands Baptist Church. Their family attends a Lutheran Church, which like the Mennonites also baptizes by sprinkling, but since their parents wanted their Uncle Bill to baptize them, they complied (happily I might add) with baptism by immersion. Words similar to those spoken at my baptism accompanied their immersion in the water: “Buried with Christ in his death . . . raised to walk in newness of life.”
What special sacred ceremonies have you observed or participated in yourself?
Coming next – The Potting Shed: A Magical Place