Sundays brought harsh religion in an unadorned church. The boy, who had just turned twelve, was now at the age of consent. He sat with his parents in a hard wooden pew midway back on the left side of the little hall. After a few a cappella hymns, the black-suited preacher worked himself up and spewed God's wrath over the his flock.
"Frills are for Catholics," Brother Jones railed, his face reddening. "They wear fancy robes and bow down to false idols. Blasphemy. Abominations in the eyes of the Lord. And the Jews are worse. They crucified Christ."
The boy wouldn't have blinked if the cross on the front of the pulpit had burst into flames.
Finally, the preacher stopped his agitated pacing and swept an arm expansively across his chest, taking in the whole congregation. "Get right with Jesus or face eternal Hellfire and damnation."
Then came the call to salvation and, while the congregation sang a hymn about spotless garments and being "washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the lamb," the boy's father poked him with an elbow and nodded toward the preacher waiting at the front of the room.
The boy moved out of the pew and down the center aisle, his head lowered. His heart thumped and a sourness rose in his throat as he stood before the congregation and confessed aloud that he was a sinner and that he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
There was more singing and someone led him through a door into a tiny, dimly lit room where he changed into the white smock he found hanging on a peg. He walked down two steps into a galvanized baptismal tank reeking of chlorine. The preacher, wearing hip waders, took his hand to steady him. A curtain across the front of the tank opened, but the boy could not look out at the silent crowd.
The preacher turned to the congregation and raised his hand. "I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." He laid the boy back until water closed over his face, then lifted him upright again.
Dripping wet, the boy pulled free and stepped out of the tank, certain that God had nothing at all to do with any of it.
Barry Basden © 2009