Father Cochrane stood in the chancel at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church preparing for his first administration of the Holy Baptism rite. His lips moved in silence as he read the Baptismal Covenant and the liturgies from The Book of Common Prayer.
“It is time to ready the font,” Bishop Howe said as he finished the arrangement for the Eucharist.
Father Cochrane laid the book on the lectern. He turned to walk through the nave, paused, and then looked at Bishop Howe. “The parents’ names are Aron and Freya Walesa. We will be baptizing their infant son. Is that correct?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
Father Cochrane nodded and then proceeded through the nave. A moment before he reached the sanctuary, he thought he heard murmuring. He looked back at the altar. Bishop Howe was gone. The doors to the sacristy and the robing rooms stood open. He saw nothing out of the ordinary. The church was silent.
He entered the sanctuary. The font was in a recess to the left of the church’s magnificent red front door. A flagon of water was poised on the font.
Father Cochrane removed a small unlighted baptismal candle from the pocket inside his cassock and placed it on the font. The murmuring returned. The doors to the sacristy and robing room slammed shut. A hand touched his shoulder. He gasped and whirled around.
“I apologize if I startled you,” Bishop Howe said. “It is time for the service.”
“Did you hear that?”
Father Cochrane listened. All was quiet. He felt foolish as he hurried to the altar.
Bishop Howe opened St. Mark’s front door to a beautiful Sunday morning in St. Louis, Missouri. Blue skies and bright warm sunshine embraced him. He drew in the morning air as he greeted his waiting congregants.
Aron and Freya Walesa entered the church accompanied by their son’s baptismal sponsor.
Bishop Howe peered at the bundle in Freya’s arms and said, “So this is our tiny candidate. Such a beautiful baby! His eyes are so blue. If I may say—he looks just like you, Mrs. Walesa.”
“You are very kind Bishop,” Freya said as she smiled upon her son’s face.
The service lasted an hour, then, a deacon asked the Walesas to rise from their pew. They followed Father Cochrane. He spoke a short litany during the procession to the font.
At the font, Father Cochrane asked the Walesas if they renounced Satan, evil powers, and sinful desires.
The Walesas said in unison, “I renounce them.”
“Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your savior?”
Each Walesa said, “I do.”
Father Cochrane took the infant from his mother’s arms. He looked into the baby’s blue eyes and said, “I baptize you in the name of…”
He heard the voices of a thousand lost souls begging for a human life. A single voice whispered, “You are not allowed to touch him in that manner.”
Father Cochrane’s heart stopped, and he collapsed. The infant boy slid from his arms.
A year and a half later, the day after the Walesas left Missouri to travel the Oregon Trail, cholera waged war on St. Louis. It killed more than four thousand people. Bishop Howe was one of its casualties.