When I “retired” from the pastorate in 2014 I wasn’t quite sure what might lie ahead by way of continued ministry to and with others. Among other opportunities that have come my way I’ve been gladly volunteering with unCUFFED Ministries for the past three years. You can find me and others on our team at The Charles H Hickey School almost every Tuesday evening from 6:00 to 7:45 pm. We work with juveniles charged as adults and we have encountered a great number of boys who have been housed there for differing periods of time. One “beautiful ripple” of our efforts for me has been the privilege to go into BCDC (Baltimore County Detention Center) on two separate occasions to baptize a young man. And while it may not be the typical location for a baptism these moments have been marked by the Spirit’s presence as much or perhaps more than any others I have officiated.
The most recent was at the invitation of unCUFFED’s Executive Director, John Rusnak. He had become acquainted with a sincere young man, Malcolm, who expressed the desire to follow Christ in baptism. Our meeting took place in an unoccupied office and as I came to know Malcolm it became clear that the Holy Spirit had touched his heart. He shared with us that since his incarceration he has been steadily reading the Scriptures and as a result determined that he should be baptized as an act of obedience to God; even though he may be released in the next few months he just didn’t want to wait.
John and I shared the meaning of baptism and noted the intensity of Malcolm’s interest in hearing what the sacrament was and is all about. Namely, that it is a sign (points to) and seal (with authority) of our union with Jesus Christ. The presence and joy of the Spirit was filling that room. After asking him questions related to repentance and hearing his affirmative answers I prayed over the bottle of water and as he held some paper towels under his chin I poured out the water upon his head and said, “Malcolm, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Malcolm’s eyes were closed as some of the water trickled down the side of his face. John closed our holy moment in prayer. I then asked MalcolmW, “How are you feeling?” He said, “Finally!” After we spoke a while longer, we embraced and parted company with the promise to be praying for each other.
During and after our time together I reflected on how truly “Christmas-like” this experience felt. As we were on our way out I said to John, “Where else would you rather be? We were gathered in the name of Jesus and he was with us in that room.” I was struck to the core that if angels came with their Christmas announcement today that it might well be heard first at a place like BCDC. Wouldn’t he want the most joyful news ever announced to be there among the marginalized, among those who might seem most forsaken by others, among those whose futures might seem most bleak? I think so.