What happened today was a long time coming. I have to start from the beginning.
Forty-two years ago, I was baptized at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Breakerville, a small town in the coal regions of Pennsylvania. (I’ve changed the names of both the church and the town, for reasons you’ll get to in a few paragraphs.) My father was the pastor of two congregations at the time, and even though I was baptized at Holy Cross, I spent the first four years of my life as a member of the other church, until we moved away just before I started school. So basically my only connection with Holy Cross was m baptism.
About a year and a half ago, on the anniversary of my baptism, I drove back to Breakerville for the first time in decades. I looked at the church, I looked at my first home, I walked around town. I found it all rather depressing. But the next day, I met with my spiritual director. She led me on a prayer journey that retold my visit to Breakerville in a totally different way, and it turned into the most powerful thing I’ve ever written in my life, the story of Darkwater.
About six months ago, Holy Cross Lutheran Church closed, and the building became the property of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod.
About the same time as the congregation closed, I started working on a book. The book’s life began as a new version of my blog series “Snapshots of My Depression.” Over time, it turned into a much broader story, the story of my lifelong relationships with two voices in my head: the Dark Voice of depression telling me I am horrible, and the still small voice of God telling me through my baptism that I am beloved and called. The book is now called Darkwater: Memoir of a Pastor with Depression. The experience of Darkwater has obviously become an important part of this story, and my baptism has as well. (In some ways, my baptism and Darkwater are the same story.)
Last week, I wrote a new chapter in the book, a dreamlike retelling of the story of my baptism itself. I imagined myself back in Holy Cross as an infant, and tried to describe the experience. With that chapter, my manuscript is now complete, and this week I am starting the process of submitting it to publishers, to see if it has legs.
Yesterday, I was walking and talking with my good friend Pete. He has read a draft of the book, and we were talking about it. At one point I began to discuss one of the things I still want to revise in the book: the names. A lot of people I’ve known in my life are characters in the book, and I want to change all their names to protect their privacy. I mentioned that I should probably change the name of Breakerville as well, because it doesn’t come off in the best light, and I have no desire to slander a town that I really don’t know. I decided also to change the name of Holy Cross, so the church’s name wouldn’t be a clue to the town. (Of course, to Pete I did not say “Breakerville” or “Holy Cross.” I think you get the point.)
Within a minute of that conversation, the Fitbit on my wrist vibrated, and so did the phone in my pocket. When they both vibrate, it means I’ve received a text or a phone call. I looked at my wrist, and I couldn’t see anything on its display thanks to the glare of the sun. So I pulled my phone out. There was no text or call. There was, however, a new email. It hit me that my Fitbit had actually vibrated because I’d hit my step goal for the day. It was a coincidence that I received an email at the same time. But the point is this: I never would have pulled my phone out just to check on an email. But because I did, I saw that this email was from Carl, a member of the synod bishop’s staff, and the subject was, “Holy Cross Lutheran Church’s Treasure.”
A few minutes later, we reached Pete’s house, and I read the whole email. Turns out that Holy Cross’ building will be sold on Wednesday, and Carl, along with several other people, hired a stonemason to remove the cornerstone of the church. They knew that some items had been stored in the cornerstone back in 1900, when the building was built, and they were looking to reclaim them. Carl sent this email to a half dozen people with connections to Holy Cross, including me, to share the details of what they found in the cornerstone.
I wrote back to Carl, and thanked him for including me in this email. I wrote, “I have no real memories of Holy Cross, but since it’s the place where I was baptized, it holds a special place in my heart.”
Carl wrote back to me right away, and asked me if I’d like to have the baptismal font from Holy Cross. He said that no other church was interested in it, and since I was baptized there, he thought I might want it.
I really couldn’t say no. There were too many coincidences, too many perfections in this narrative. The timing was so unbelievable. My FitBit even conspired to make sure I saw that email at the right time. But I knew the font was marble, I knew that marble was heavy, and I knew that I had no idea what I’d do with it. I said to Pete: “This is not a good idea, but I can’t say no to it.” He told me, “That’s the textbook definition of the Greek tragedy.”
This morning, I met Pete again, and the two of us drove to Breakerville. Carl opened the church for us, and we proceeded to remove the baptismal font. It is solid marble, and comes into four pieces, each of which weighs approximately 75,400 pounds. (That’s an estimate.) We somehow got them into my car. My car’s mileage was significantly reduced, and braking time signicantly increased. I was just pleased my tires didn’t collapse on the drive home.
And now, there is a baptismal font in my garage. More than that, the font at which I was baptized is in my garage. There is a visible, tangible, heavy sign of Darkwater in my garage. I have some ideas of where it might end up eventually. But not now. My back has to heal first. For now, it’s there, and I get to figure out just what all this means.
But I’m pretty sure it’s good, whatever it is.