Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Memorable Story in Water

Following up the story on baptisms by the Archbishop of York, is this story from my father-in-law, Bob Alcorn. He was a funny man and an engaging story-teller, as this story from his memoirs illustrates. It had the congregation in stitches when it was recounted at Bob’s funeral in 2005:

“The account of my baptism, although it did not occur until the end of 1943 is included here for the sake of completeness. I was baptized in this church on 24 October 1943 and received into membership during my final leave before going overseas to Egypt. My pastor, Gordon Bycroft was away at Assembly in Christchurch, and Mr. E A Benfell, our Sunday School Superintendent baptized me. He was a professional gardener and although in his seventies, was still a very strong person. He wore what must have been one of the first prototypes of bi-focal spectacles. I knew this because he held his head at odd angles while speaking to you.”

“The baptistery must have been the original installed in 1883. It was a long and deep tin bath, with steps at one end. The paint was peeling off and because of wartime shortages it had not been repainted. Its bottom was as slippery as glass.”

“I descended through clouds of ascending steam into this baptistery and stood before Mr. Benfell. It didn’t matter at what angle he held his head‑ he still couldn’t see me. The steam had completely fogged his bi-focals. He eventually found me and gripped me hard. One hand behind my neck and the other in the small of my back. As the angle of my body to the perpendicular increased so also did the angle of my toes to my heels. When my body was resting completely on my heels—they slipped forward taking Mr. Benfell completely by surprise. Being too old to respond quickly to an emergency, he let go of me and I floated on my back to the end of the baptistery. I could hear the sound behind me of arms flailing the water in a fruitless search for his baptismal candidate. Wanting to be helpful I kicked off from the end of the baptistery and floated back in his direction. Although he couldn’t see me he felt the swirl of my passage around his knees, signifying my return. He raised both hands high in the air and plunged them down on my solar plexus as if he were a concert pianist playing the first five bars of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto. I gave a surprised grunt and gurgle.”

“Led by my bottom and with the rest of my body following in a V shaped formation I slowly descended and grounded on the bottom, my head and feet being the last parts to disappear! Rather like a freighter in WWII sunk after being torpedoed amidships. Strong arms pulled me upright to the surface.”

“As if from a great distance, for my ears and mouth were full of water I heard a voice say, “Stand still for a moment, try to compose yourself before leaving the baptistery.” I shook my head to clear my ears of water. The congregation was singing:

‘The beautiful, the beautiful, the river,
shall we gather at the

“No thanks,” I said to myself, “never again, once is enough for me.”

"There is still the occasional person, when I return to Dunedin who will say: “You know Bob, I still remember your baptism—WELL.”

Source: R A Alcorn, “Sorry I can’t stay long.”: The Life story of Bob Alcorn.” Volume 1, Auckland, December 2000, p62.

Image: Turning water into story.