It was Saturday May 2nd, 1987 — 34 years ago today — when as an eight year old I joined the LDS church. Even then I remember being a skeptic but intense pressure to “make the decision” meant I didn’t have much choice. I ping ponged between not feeling worthy and insecurities about the “truthfulness” of the whole operation. The evening itself was nice and the conversation I had about it with my dad in the change room was memorable.
My memory of the night isn’t perfect but I remember a few details. Danielle MacNiven and Dan Baugh were both scheduled to be baptized that night too but I’m pretty sure Dan was a no-show — which thinking about it now, it’s bizarre that he wasn’t there. I wonder if he had cold feet? Or maybe I can’t remember the details right and it was someone else that was the no-show.
Anyway, the physical experience of the baptismal font surprised me. It was warmer than a public pool and cooler than a hot tub. I’d never worn clothes in water before so that was new and the too tight jumper they forced me to wear was not comfortable. I stressed that the water would make the white outfit transparent but I don’t remember that being an issue in reality.
In my experience, what happens in a baptism is that the dad (assuming he’s in good standing — which he was) takes you down into the lukewarm water of the baptismal font, holds their arm to the square, says a ceremonial prayer and submerges the reluctant joiner under the water. It doesn’t take very long, but then you come up out of the water to an overpowering crowd of eager lookie-loos only to be told that the dunk didn’t count because your elbow wasn’t quite below the water line and that it needs to happen one more time, for full sin washing potency. So we did it again.
Back in the change room, while we dried off, I told my dad that I was reluctant to go through with part 2, the confirmation blessing. He asked why I didn’t say something sooner. I’m not sure what I said but I remember he told me that, “now, it’s too damn late.” Geez, Dad, swearing in the church about baptism? — even then I was a judgy kid. He went on to tell me about the first time he went through the temple — an even more esoteric ceremony within the church — and how at the end of it all he had to get married to someone he DID NOT WANT TO GET MARRIED TO (His first wife). So, he could relate.
Nevertheless, as far as he was concerned my fate was sealed and we went to the primary room for more prayer, singing, and a bunch of old men putting their hands on my head while one of them gave me blessings of happiness so long as I stayed worthy — I think it was my grandpa that did the honours. Being baptized meant I got a clean slate but from this point forward anything I did wrong would be permanent points against me on judgement day — seriously, how is this healthy for an eight year old?
So that’s it. That’s what I remember about my baptism. Coincidentally, May 2nd was arbor day and on the same day, my family and I planted some trees in the coulee behind our house. I don’t have any regrets about the trees we planted that day. They are big now.