THE CLOTHES DON’T MATTER
I will always remember that cold, snowy December day in 1955 when I decided to step out on faith, accept the Lord, and be baptized. I was a high school senior, had just finished playing football for the season, and was starting to seriously think about what I was going to do with my life.
Although I didn’t live in Jerry City, Ohio, a small town of maybe two hundred people, I had been attending the little wooden framed church there for over a year, mostly because that’s where my mother had always gone to church. It was a small, narrow building, seating maybe fifty people, with a baptistery at the front and two tiny adjacent rooms for changing clothes.
On that particularly morning the pastor’s sermon got me to thinking about my spiritual life and inspired me to make a personal commitment to the Lord. After the pastor finished his sermon and the congregation was singing “Just As I Am,” I walked down the aisle and made my confession.
I assumed I would then be baptized. However, the pastor said that the water in the baptistery was ice cold and would have to be heated in the afternoon. He asked me to return for the Sunday evening service to be baptized. I normally didn’t attend the Sunday evening service, but I lived on a farm just four miles away and figured it would be no problem to return.
At the evening service, after the pastor’s sermon, I walked down the aisle to be baptized. One of the deacons took me into one of the tiny rooms adjacent to the baptistery and told me to put on the clothes I brought for the baptism.
“I didn’t know I was supposed to bring clothes,” I said.
The congregation was small and baptisms were infrequent. I had never personally witnessed one so I had no clue about the clothes. I had assumed that the church provided some type of baptismal robe.
“Well, you can’t be baptized in the clothes you have on,” the deacon said. “You’ll be wet and freeze to death on the way home. The temperature out there is well below freezing.”
I just looked at him, totally bewildered. I had no idea what I could do.
He thought for a moment and then said, “You’ll have to go out the back door and ask one of the neighbors if you can borrow some clothes for the baptism.”
I was a shy farm boy and the very thought of going to some stranger’s door and asking for clothes to be baptized in made me weak in the knees.
“I just don’t know if I can do that,” I said.
The deacon put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Son, how badly do you want to be baptized?”
That was a good question. I debated it in my mind for a few seconds and then said, “Well, I guess I do.”
“Well, then, go find some clothes,” the deacon said. “I’ll have the congregation keep singing some hymns till you get back.”
Reluctantly I went out the back door. Cold, blowing snow greeted me and sent chills through my body. I peered down the street to see which houses had lights on and hopefully would have some kind soul inside willing to let me borrow some clothes. Some of the houses had their Christmas lights on and I decided to go to the house that looked the brightest and friendliest.
The house I went to was three doors down from the church. I went to the front door, said a brief prayer, took a deep breath, and knocked. A tall rather matronly lady answered. I glanced at her dress and apron and immediately thought, I don’t think so.
“Excuse me, ma’am, ” I said. “But I’m from the church down the street and I want to be baptized but I need to borrow some clothes to wear for the baptism. Do you have any clothes in the house I could borrow? I would really appreciate it and I promise to bring them back.”
“Doesn’t the church have robes for that?” she asked.
“No, ma’am, they don’t,” I said.
“Well, step inside and get out of the cold wind,” she said. “We’ll see what we can do.”
By this time her husband appeared. He was a tall, burly man about twice my size and wearing bib overalls. I looked at the large overalls and thought, No way will those work.
He said, “Don’t I know you?”
After a brief conversation, I discovered that this was the home of my oldest brother’s in-laws. I had never met them but I felt relieved to know there was some kind of connection. They had a daughter who was a twin sister to my brother’s wife and they suggested that maybe she had something I could wear.
My heart sank. A lady’s clothes? I wanted to run out the door and go find another house but I knew it would not be a polite thing to do. The lady told me to sit down while she looked for some clothes. As I sat there, I kept thinking of the congregation at the church singing one hymn after another and wondering what was taking so long.
The lady soon came back with a lady’s long sleeved shirt and jeans that zipped up the side. Except for a little bit of lace on the collar, the clothes looked workable…..that is, if they fit. I figured I could turn the collar under.
After expressing deep gratitude for the clothes, I headed back through the snow toward the church. As I neared the church I could see the golden glow of lights coming from the windows and I could hear the congregation singing “Silent Night” as the members patiently waited to witness a new birth. A bit of nostalgia grabbed hold of me. I thought of the birth of a little boy centuries ago lying in the manger wrapped in strips of cloth, no fancy baby clothes, and it didn’t matter at all. The birth is all that mattered.
I went into the little room adjacent to the church baptistery and put on the lady’s clothes that were so graciously given to me. They were snug but acceptable. In a few moments I was born again and the clothes didn’t matter. “Joy to the world.”
by Charles Milton Lee