Hagewood Chapel Church in Southside, Tennessee on Billy Goat Ridge was the place where I baptized new Christians for the very first time in my ministry. God sent me to Hagewood Chapel to learn how to preach. May God bless those wonderful members of Hagewood Chapel Church on Billy Goat Ridge! Some of them would even come out of the service and tell me what a good sermon I preached. I know God will forgive them for lying; they just wanted to encourage a young twenty-five year old preacher.
Hagewood Chapel Church was a country mountain church with cement block walls, no baptistery, and no bathroom; just an outside set of “his and hers” toilets built onto the back of the church building. There were hand painted signs near the open entrance to those facilities (no doors, just signs) that simply indicated which was the men’s and the women’s. Go farther out of Southside, at that time a small community of 250 citizens, on Billy Goat Ridge. After the paved road turns to gravel for a mile or so, you come to the bank of the Cumberland River. This is bullfrog and catfish paradise!
It was there as a young pastor that I learned to baptize new Christians by immersion. I managed to get them under the water… God only knows how the Lord helped me get them back up again. I was a “Baptist-in-training”. On that very first occasion was an older gentleman (in his seventies as I recall) that had lived a rough life and had battled often through the years with an alcohol addiction. He had gotten saved while in the hospital dealing with cancer. He was the very first one I baptized; there with the bullfrogs and catfish. Now remember this is mountain folk and they had known this man all through his rough life style and some in the Church questioned if he had really been saved.
So, as a young preacher I intended to baptize him good (Oh Yes!). We walked out in to the water and the mud was slippery as we went carefully into the Cumberland River. I got a good hold on him and put him down in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit into the baptismal waters. I had a good hold on him as I watched him disappear under the dark water of the Cumberland River. When he came up, he came up coughing … but praise God he came up out of the water. (Amen!)
This older gentleman and new Christian rejoiced as he grabbed me and hugged me right there in the river. For a moment I thought he was going to baptize me.