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Thu, Oct 23, 2014

WHITTLE: Huge crowd observes Stones River baptismal service

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From rivers, to warm indoor climate-controlled church baptisteries, back to the river has been the evolutionary trail of Christian baptizing services over past centuries, dating back to the immersion of Christ, in the biblical account of John the Baptist.

A Smyrna man's request to be baptized in Stones River instead of an indoor church baptistery, mushroomed into a community-wide "old timey" baptismal service in Mother Nature's elements.

"I can't believe the turnout here today," said Smyrna Parkway Baptist Church member Jim Hill, age 64. "It started with a quiet prayer and consultation with pastor Dan Parker, and after consideration, it felt like the correct spiritual thing for me to do as part of my public Christian testimony."

Hill's obvious jubilation was heightened this recent warm Sunday evening "baptizing service" when his teenaged granddaughter, Casey Pierce, also stepped into the river to be immersed.

"The weather setting was great, and Casey's desire to be also be immersed, well, as a Christian grandparent, it can be no better than this," Hill testified moments after he was put under the water.

And then, he assisted the pastor with his grandchild's baptizing.

More than 300 "saints" from multiple Middle Tennessee congregations of the Christian faith gathered on the bank of Stones River to witness two teen-agers and two adult men be baptized by the Rev. Dan Parker of Smyrna Parkway Baptist Church.

An older "believer," who witnessed this service, recalled his own baptism of youth.

"It was in the early 1940s, when I was immersed," testified Larry Gilliam, a member of Stones River Baptist Church that was named after the river. "It was early March, and very cold when I was baptized outdoors…"

Thirteen-year-old Liscy Lemay was the youngest of the four immersed this day in Stones River.

"I was thankful to see so many children come to witness the baptismal service," said Parkway Children's Minister Beth Tucker. "It allowed them to witness the way John the Baptist baptized Christ in the river Jordan."

"It's very important for me to be baptized," Liscy acknowledged as her supportive cast of proud family members watched from the ditch bank.

As adult Parkway Church member Kevin Soucy was put under the water, a white dove was observed flying over the river just below the bridge on Jefferson Pike.

"It's a very special day," noted Soucy moments after his immersion as the voiced notes of "Down To The River To Pray" floated out over the water by Parkway choir members Mark and Laurie Cantrell, Kim Grubbs, Michael W. and Becky Smith, Kathy Fleming, Luke and Gary Judkins, plus Teresa Barnett.

"As I went down to the river to pray, studying about the good ol' way… good Lord show me the way," the choir softly voiced the old hymn's first verse as the immersions took place.

Recent record-breaking heat and severe drought could not keep Grandma Pat and I away from "church" on another recent special Sunday service.

How special?

Our grandson, Gabe, son of La Vergne residents Ben and Jessica Amick, was "baptized" in an area church's indoor facility.

Grandparental hearts and other family members' spirits soared when this eight-year-old boy boldly proclaimed his faith and service to "Christ" on the church's mega-screen before hundreds in the congregation.

When Gabe went under the water, tears of joy streamed down grandmothers' Pat and Janice Stanford's respective cheeks.

Making this baptismal service especially soul-stirring was that Gabe was immersed in the loving arms of his devout church-going father, Ben, our youngest son.

"Our church began allowing fathers to baptize their child a few years ago," Ben accounted.

Three years ago, son Ben "baptized" his beautiful daughter, Georgia Grace, also at age 8.

Another personal-emotional baptizing I witnessed was the immersion of my longtime loyal Cannon County friend, (the late) C.L. Vickers in his newest pair of Liberty brand overalls, at a pretty little rural church on the outskirts of Woodbury back in the 1990s.

As an eight-year-old farm boy back in Missouri flatland farming country, I was baptized by the Rev. Allie Sullivant in "Second Ditch"…a little drainage stream that required beating the bushes and thrashing the water to prayerfully disperse snakes.

The nearby Mississippi River's current was too strong for safe baptismal services. We also had Little River nearby, but the name evidences the small trickling stream of water was not deep enough for a baptizing service.

Family legend has it that (late) older brother, Van, while I was under the water, shouted from the ditch bank: "Hold him under a little longer, preacher man."

Amen.
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