I snapped a photo of the gleaming white concrete steps and glanced upward into the narrowly ascending tile stairs.

How many people had come down those since they were made, stepping slowly so as not to slip, hearts pounding, anticipating the bottom, the backwards fall, the sudden sucked-in breath, the deadly shock?

Only a few hours earlier I had kneeled in the bottom of the pit, the tank, the concrete coffin and pounded away on the floor with a power bar. Paint chips flew everywhere, green paint, yellow paint, white paint. Dropping the bar, I grabbed my paint scraper and pushed it down hard, dragging it across the accumulated crud on the top of the paint and concrete. It screeched along the cold surface like fingers on a chalk board.

What was it? I wasn’t sure? Sediments from the water? Oils from people’s skin? The thin greasy yuck of ten or more generations of yellowing anger, lust, hatred, selfishness and pride? I sanded it, I TSP’ed it, I pounded it again, and it slowly yielded to the onslaught, as it is want to do.

I rose up from my knees thinking, “Jesus may have died for your sins, but somebody eventually will have to clean them off of the bottom of the baptistery.”

The whole experience had been rather unique from the beginning. I thought it would be simple, repaint the old baptistery. It wasn’t.

 Even the trips to the paint store, three trips, had an interesting aura about them. “This paint isn’t really meant to be submerged,” the clerk said, turning the gallon can in his hands.  ”It’s water proof, but … maybe you should go to a pool store.”

At the pool store Mark, the pool expert, added another wrinkle. “You need to bring in a paint chip. I’ll test it to see what kind of paint was on there. Then we can pick a paint that is compatible. Otherwise, it will just peel off.”

But when we pooled the paint chips I brought back, dunking them in three different kinds of solvents, nothing happened. The thick, adamantine pieces stubbornly resisted dissolving in anything. “I think the paint is from the 17th Century,” I quipped. Mark looked nonplussed. But we still didn’t know what we were painting over, just that it was really old, really hard and resistant to solvents. It looked a lot like the peculiar texture of human corruption to me.

Mark wanted to sell me two cans of paint at $90 a gallon and a cleaning kit for $37. I settled for the $59 per gallon epoxy paint after he said that it would probably stick just about as well as the other. I had some TSP and an acid based concrete cleaner  back at the church, down in the basement,  in the old supply room where you can pretty much find anything if you look long enough.

Mark took a long time. He was really slow.  His every movement was in slow motion. He had all day. I didn’t; I fidgeted. Murderous thoughts surfaced in the back of my brain, not compatible with my mission. I chipped away at him in my mind. Why did Mark push the more expensive products? After all and with all due respect, it was for the baptistery! You’d think he’d offer a discount to try to score some points for himself on the side.

Maybe he did. At the register he took 15% off, but I think it was because there was a sale going on. Earlier he had told me he didn’t go to church and that they didn’t give discounts to churches. Other thoughts came to mind. His name is Mark, and his story isn’t over. 

Back at the church, I kneeled again in the baptistery, paint roller in hand, the thick white paint dripping off the cover, onto the floor. The moment was sacred. It was an honor to be in this place. The concrete enclosure had a unique, historical, purposeful presence, like the ancient baptismal tank at the Baptistère Saint-Jean in Poitiers, like San Giovanni in Fonte, the Lateran baptistery built by Constantine in Rome.

But this baptistery is no museum. People will not come to look just to look. This baptistery will receive the devoted ones on this very upcoming Sunday.

They will step down into the rippling water, shining brilliant white, reflecting its new paint. They will stand in the water before their friends, families and God, and they will make their professions of faith in Christ.

They will dive backwards into the water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit like people have for thousands of years, and they will lie still below the surface, dead to their crud, dead to their old selves, dead to their sin, and they will be lifted up from the watery grave with faces shinning white – new ones, redeemed ones, fresh ones, life-splashed, righteously strong and beautiful ones.

I hope the paint is dry. Otherwise the saints looking on may see an ethereal, white glow on each baptized face and mistake it for a miracle.

No matter, paint in the water or not, this moment will be a miracle, new life springing up in an old baptistery.


  1. Vance Miller says:

    Pastor Randy,
    I loved your narritive of your latest project. I felt like I was there with you. It is amazing when you really think about all of the lives that has been saved in that bapistry.
    I am really excited to be apart of your team for GOD.

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