Day 50: The Pastor Who Wouldn’t Baptize My Dad

Dear Pastor,

This is delicate. It has to be just right.

It would help to first identity what “it” is, but I’m not sure I truly know. It’s not an apology. Nor is it a rant. It’s not even what we’ve come in today’s world to know as “click bait.”

These are just raw emotions expressed through fingertips and a keyboard. Raw emotions. That’s all this is.

It was the kindest of gestures when you befriended my dad during his hospital stay five years ago. When you came along we didn’t know he’d never leave. But he never really had anyone to call “pastor,” and your kindness and concern was welcome during a difficult time.

At some point the realization came to us all that he probably wouldn’t leave.

My dad, in one of the places he most loved - our duck blind on the St. Francis River.

My dad, in one of the places he most loved – our duck blind on the St. Francis River.

Oftentimes, I say daddy lived a hell of a life. It was surely complicated by the relationships of his childhood which permeated almost everything he did. He never saw himself as good enough, up to the standard, and never grasped higher notions of grace and forgiveness. Until near the end.

In the last week of his life the Holy Spirit did a work as I’ve never seen. Daddy was transformed. Made new. Redeemed. As he slipped gradually and painfully away, there existed a peace in my father not of this world. To this day it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve personally witnessed.

Less than a week before he died Daddy wanted a baptism. The logical thing seemed a phone call to you as you’d gone out of your way with regular visits. Mom called me, the extended family showed up, and you came early that Sunday afternoon. What a magnificent celebration we anticipated.

But you said, “no.” Daddy was bedfast. He couldn’t make it to any vessel large enough for a “full immersion.” Your theology would permit nothing else. I’ll never forget your words as you walked away.

“I’m sorry. I can’t help.”

Daddy just made the decision of a lifetime. How this got managed over the minutes that followed was delicate. Thankfully, as He does, God worked it all out for the good. I rejoice at my father’s citizenship in Heaven which had nothing to do one way or another with baptism.

But for five years, your response echoed in my mind. “I’m sorry. I can’t help.” It unleashed some less than Christian behavior in my own life, was the beginning of my own turning against the Church, and didn’t do a lot for my propensity to depression.

Over time, we’ve lost the art of apology in this country. People will often say they offer forgiveness “for their own sake” because they deserve the peace that comes with forgiveness or some other such nonsense. It’s crazy that such a self-centered society has now made even forgiveness about self. Nothing is further from the truth.

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-6-48-13-amThere’s no doubt your actions that day were grounded in firm belief, probably even obedience to a cause. I’ve tried to understand, but honestly never have. Adherence to such rigid rules is the stuff of the pharisees it seems to me. The symbolism of a decision is all we’re talking about here. Did you ever have a second thought about your decision, I’ve often wondered? I’ve pondered it deeply. I just can’t see your way here.

Forgive the inference because this specific situation is but one example, but it seems that all of us in the Christian community have become our own worst enemy regarding the spread of the gospel. The conflicts we’ve created and the tone we’ve set recently are the opposite example of that to which we’re called. Because of it all, witnessing to non-Christians and people of other non-Christian faiths has never been more difficult.

I’m not mad anymore, pastor, and I don’t mean this text as some passive-aggressive internet prose. This is simply how I process and express. I’m sorry for anthing I may have said or done that was hurtful toward you. Truly, I am sorry. Everything’s okay.

Maybe this was all orchestrated as some grander plan, who knows? But that moment on a Sunday afternoon five years ago is one pillar for all my thinking now about modeling the servanthood of Christ.

Your brother in Christ,

Steve Watkins







7 thoughts on “Day 50: The Pastor Who Wouldn’t Baptize My Dad

  1. Baptism is a big deal. I saw a documentary about a group of people who were getting baptized in secret because they had already been baptized into the church publicly because they were supposed to – not because they had embraced any particular belief and the one baptism would “cancel out” the other and they’d be kicked out of their church. I also heard about dunkard preachers – who’d immerse people in water, dunking them down three times in the name of the father, the son, and in the holy spirit. Some do infant baptism followed by confirmation; others won’t allow it. Perhaps he felt like he couldn’t compromise? Hopefully you were able to find another preacher in the area who would do sprinkle baptism or found comfort in that not everyone who joins Jesus in paradise had to be baptized to do it. Maybe one day, in heaven, you’ll all be together for a very happy (if belated) baptism.


  2. Thanks Steve, I bet that wasn’t easy. I was thinking about writing that but the whole deal from beginning to end is a spiritual minefield. I love the photo of your Dad in the duck blind. I’ve spent my share of time in duck blinds hither and yon. I have often thought that waiting for ducks to come in is good training for waiting for Christ to return. That probably only makes sense to duck hunters or sons of duck hunters. Love you man, Phil.


  3. When I accepted Christ as my Savior and started attending the local church (a community that I was part of for a while before conversion and whose testimony led me towards the cross), after a few months, the Pastor took me aside and said that I needed to change my name, make a public denouncement of my faith (Islam) and get baptized.

    I understood the baptism need and accepted it, but the pastor would not do it without the first two steps. I politely declined and was asked not to come back to the congregation. Some amazing men of God stepped in and counseled me, allowed me to grow spiritually and find my christian identify outside the ‘established church’.

    When I left the western country to come back to my community in the Middle East, I felt God saying that to was time to get baptized (to pick up my cross) and work within the community that I grew up in (the one the Pastor wanted me to denounce). I have worked ever since to be the Christ who met the woman at the well, declared His sovereignty and allowed her to use her identity within the community to bring the good news. He never said to her to declare herself separate from the community, once she learned the truth. Christ accepted the simple recognition of His true identity to count her as His. And that’s all it takes, no confetti in the air, dance around the pulpits or baptisms in big pools.

    So, my dear friend, I am sorry for the hurt, but our salvation and all its glory is through Christ and sometimes theology and Church-odoxy gets in the way, but it should never take away the pure joy of His embrace.

    Love in Christ.


  4. Steve, I don’t know if you have read any of Frederick Buechner’s works. He is now in his early 90’s.  What I am sending you is a copy of his FB post from yesterday, the 19th of Feb.   I read Day 50 and thought of “certainties”… where Buechner shares a review of his life’s work as an author, his faith, and his strongest belief. May that strong belief, as he expresses it,  bring you peace.  Karen M. Frederick Buechner Yesterday at 8:21am ·  Certainties THERE ARE TIMES when I suspect the world may come to an end before most of us are ready to—which would have the advantage at least of our not having to leave, one by one, while the party is still going strong—but most of the time I believe that the world will manage somehow to survive us, and that has its advantages too. I suppose Judy and I will keep on living in Vermont because after all these years it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else, and as long as the dreams keep being dreamed, I suppose I will go on writing books. They never reach as wide a public as I would like—too religious for secular readers, I suspect, and too secular for religious ones—but in the end justice is almost always done in literary matters, I believe, and if they are worth enduring, they will endure. Who can say? Humanly speaking, in fact, who can say for sure about anything? And yet there are some things I would be willing to bet maybe even my life on. That life is grace, for instance—the givenness of it, the fathomlessness of it, the endless possibilities of its becoming transparent to something extraordinary beyond itself. That—as I picked up somewhere in Jung and whittled into the ash stick I use for tramping around through the woods sometimes—vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit, which I take to mean that in the long run, whether you call on him or don’t call on him, God will be present with you. That if we really had our eyes open, we would see that all moments are key moments. That he who does not love remains in death. That Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwells among us full of grace and truth. On good days I might add a few more to the list. On bad days it’s possible there might be a few less.  – Originally published in Now and Then LoveShow more reactionsCommentShare


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