A Southern Baptist Courtship
By Karen Blakeney
Snagging his attention seemed completely out of the question. Why I bothered to entertain flirty thoughts, heaven only knew, because the facts were not in my favor. First of all, Bryan was a senior; and I was a lowly sophomore. He had been elected Student Council President, so his confident presence tended to permeate the school—he gave the morning announcements over the P. A. system, he ran the pep rallies before football games, and he sauntered down the halls taking photographs for the school newspaper. He oozed confidence.
I, on the other hand, felt skittish and inept. Transitioning from junior high to high school is one of life’s humbling experiences. About the only thing I had going was that I had just made cheerleader. But even that accomplishment jarred my self-esteem. I needed to cheer louder, jump higher, straighten that elbow, and stop forgetting the new move in “Let’s Get Rowdy.”
Maybe he noticed me because of my hair. In those days, I sported long, wavy locks courtesy of Herbal Essence Shampoo and Clairol Hot Rollers. Bryan had quite the head of hair, too—a Bobby Sherman mop, complete with exaggerated sideburns. And what a car!—yep, I was that shallow—he cruised onto campus in a 1968 Deepwater Blue Camaro, which was, in my mind, almost as sexy as a Corvette.
I usually walked home from school. One day, he drove up beside me in his Camaro, rolled down his window, and asked if I wanted a ride. My brain said, “Yes!” My mouth said, “Well…okay,” as if I needed to roll the offer around in my head. “If it’s no trouble…” I added before tossing my books onto the floorboard and sliding into the bucket seat. We started to date soon.
When an invitation to his church became a regular part of our courtship, I realized our relationship had entered the realm of serious. It’s a wonder, though, that we even remained a couple after one particular Wednesday night service when a 300-pound man almost drowned in the baptismal font. The font at Grace Memorial Baptist Church is recessed into a gorgeous natural stone wall behind the choir loft. Nowadays, an electronic door rides up to display it, but in the 70s, a waterfall of a curtain cascaded down the tall, rugged wall and raised in lavish tiers with the pull of a cord.
Bryan and I were sitting close to the pulpit that evening when the heavy, brocade curtain inched its way up to reveal Reverend Futral, a man of modest stature, standing in waist-deep water with a fellow of considerable height and girth. The usual pronouncements were made about the significance of baptism, and we were told that the large gentleman standing before us had come to know Christ as his personal Lord and Savior; so naturally, he was making a public profession of faith by seeking Believer’s Baptism. At that point, all that remained was the big event and the essential proclamation: “Buried with Him in baptism; raised in newness of life.” Then Reverend Futral placed one hand behind the man’s back and used the other hand to push him under the water. It was not a gentle process. The poor fellow lurched backwards causing a water explosion of belly-flop caliber.
An epic struggle ensued to raise him in newness of life. As I glanced around, I could see that the entire congregation maintained poise and respectful reverence for the sanctity of the occasion. God help me—I was about to die. I vise-gripped my teeth and desperately squeezed my lips together with all the strength my face could muster. It was hopeless. An outrageous balloon of mirth swelled in me and began to escape from my nose, spewing out in a long, vibrating kazoo sound. And then it was over. All I could do was hold my convulsing body as I sank deeply into the pew. The man survived.
I suppose it was fear that held Bryan in check—his parents were several pews behind. He didn’t emit so much as a chuckle until he drove me home after the services. In the safety of his Camaro he laughed about the whole hapless scenario—the fat guy sinking like the Titanic, the frenzied struggle to pull him up, the Herculean effort of the worshippers to uphold the dignity of the ceremony.
And thankfully—he laughed about me—the girl with a complete lack of self-control.
I have been happily married to Bryan for twenty-seven years. We live in Gulfport with our five children, and I maintain a website at www.NathansPrayer.com. The good people of Grace Memorial Baptist Church still allow us to attend, even during Baptism services.