After I left NYC, and my sister’s sofa, I spent a few months in the fall of 1977 back in New Paltz on yet another davenport. I was making far too little money tutoring political science students, most of whom were having difficulty because 1) they hadn’t read the books, and 2) because they lacked the fundamental understanding of civics.
Around Christmas, I went to visit and ended up crashing with, my friend Mark and his then-wife Peggy in Schenectady, a city in the Albany metro. Starting in February 1978, I got a job as a teller in the Albany Savings Bank in downtown Albany, where Peggy worked. It was in the very building I work in presently, which now has a Citizens Bank and a Starbucks.
I worked there only a month, before quitting, partly because I really hated the job, and mostly because I got a job at the Schenectady Arts Council as a bookkeeper that I not only enjoyed more but made more money ($8200 v. $6000/year). At the bank, I had more cash in my drawer than I made annually, before taxes.
As I was leaving ASB, I had asked out a coworker, one of the most gorgeous women I had ever seen in person, a mixture of Brazilian, and something else. I hadn’t gone out with ANYONE from mid-1975 through the end of 1977. But being reasonably employed had emboldened me. She never replied in the brief time I was there.
After I got my new job, though, she contacted me and asked me if I wanted to go to church with her. Hmm. Well, she WAS a nice woman, and did I mention she was beautiful?
One early Sunday afternoon in March, I was picked up by some church folks in some vehicle – sardines have more room – and we traveled to a church in Troy, another city in the Albany metro.
Martin Luther King Jr. had talked about Sunday morning being the most segregated time of the week in America. That critique did not apply to this non-denominational (I think) church. It was a LONG service with much talking and LOTS of music, some of it spontaneous, very much in the black church tradition.
At some point, the pastor went around to every person in the congregation and asked if he or she had been saved; he said it more eloquently than that, but that was the gist. And the answer was either “Yes, praise Jesus!” or “Thank you.” Now I had my born-again experience about 15 years earlier, and I had come from a tradition that said, “Once saved, always saved.” Also, I knew saying “yes” would have been the easier tactic.
I said, “thank you.”
After he’d spoken to well over 200 people in the congregation, he called upon the three or four of us to come forward. A bunch of people, including the beautiful woman, lay hands on me, and the others, and said, “GEE-zus.” Actually it more like:
One of us heathens started blathering something or other, and they whisked him away. Likewise with another one.
Then my lips started moving, saying things I did not initiate, in a language (or gibberish) that I did not understand. “HALLELUJAH!” the congregants all shouted. And they took me downstairs from the sanctuary, gave me essentially a large sheet to change into, I took off my outerwear, put on the sheet, and experienced a full-immersion baptism in a large tub.
I got a ride back to Mark and Peggy’s house, and they said I’d hear from them. But I never did. The next day, a large block of ice smashed the roof of Peggy’s VW bug. Life went on, as though this….thing…hadn’t happened. Whatever it was that happened.
Some years later, I gave a sermonette at the Methodist church I belonged to, and I told this story, probably with less emphasis on the pretty young woman. The message was about follow-through, and calling back or reaching out somehow when folks express interest.
Was I speaking in tongues? Maybe. Possibly. I have no idea. But It’s interesting how little lasting impact it had on my theological development.
And just a few weeks ago, without looking for it, I came across the baptismal certificate.