Summary: First sermon at Patterson Avenue Baptist as pastor.

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I want to thank you for the warm reception we have received since our arrival in Richmond. Your kindness and generosity has touched my family’s heart and made us feel at home very quickly in this great city.

Many of you have commented on the fact that you have been praying for my former parish on the Eastern Shore. That is greatly appreciated. For the last seven years, I have been privileged to serve the good people of the Red Bank Baptist Church. Along the way, my family and I have developed many significant friendships. We will miss them dearly.

There is one thing, however, that I, personally, will not miss about the Eastern Shore and that is all the water. Each day I picked up my mail from a little Post Office in a town called Nassawadox, which is an old Native American word meaning “between two waters.” We lived between two waters – about three miles from the Atlantic to the east, and about eight miles from the Chesapeake Bay west.

It is a little scary to live so close to the water.

You would hear about the danger often on the nightly news. A swimmer would venture too far out into the Chesapeake Bay, a boat would, or a vehicle goes over the railing on the Bay Bridge Tunnel. Sometimes there would be a happy conclusion to the story. The Coast Guard or a Lifeguard would spring to action and the people involved in the accident would be rescued. On other occasions, however, the reports would not end so positively as a rescue operation would become a recovery effort.

It is a little scary to live so close to the water.

I remember when I first visited the Eastern Shore about seven year ago. We approached the 22-Mile long Bridge-Tunnel as the sun was setting. We paid the toll and began to cross with a bit of fear and apprehension. It was not just the long expanse. It was “the tunnel.” I had been through tunnels before, but never a tunnel that cut through water. I did not like it! My daughter Michelle liked it. She has always been something of a sophisticated jokester, and even at the time (being only 10 years old), she knew exactly what to say to make her somewhat aqua phobic daddy feel a bit nervous. As we made it to the halfway point in the first tube, Michelle said, “Hey Daddy is that water I see coming in from the walls?”

It is a little scary to live so close to the water.

When I was a young boy, my father decided to teach me how to swim. We would head over to my Uncle Al and Aunt Vie’s home. They had a nice pool in the back yard. It would not take long before the “lessons” began. His methodology was what might be called the “sink or swim” approach. He would to toss me into the deep end of the pool. Then I would either sink or swim. Now believe me, it wasn’t by choice, but somehow I always managed to sink and my father would need to come into the pool and fish me out just before I died. The “sink or swim” approach did not work for me. In fact, I have never really learned how to swim.

When I went to college at Stetson University in Deland, Florida, one of the requirements for graduation was that we needed to pass a swimming proficiency text. The test amounted to diving into an Olympic sized swimming pool, swimming its length six times, and wading in water for 3 minutes. If we did not know how to swim, instructions would be provided.

I took that class four times – and never passed the test. I did not even come close. It was embarrassing.

During my senior year, I took the class again. Everyone who was signed up for the class knew how to swim. The first day of class, each one passed the test – leaving me the only student. The women’s swim coach looked at me with a bit of disdain on her face.

“Oh, Nieporte! It’s you again!” She had been the instructor through each of my failed attempts to learn how to swim.

“Nieporte, what do you plan to do after you graduate!” she said.

“I will be attending seminary and studying to be a Baptist pastor!”

“Where will you be attending seminary?” she asked.

“I am planning on attending the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lousiville, Kentucky.”

“Great, that’s the Midwest. There are no oceans there.”

“Yes,” I said. “No oceans. There is the Ohio River, though!”

“Shut up!” she said.

I stood silently.

“If you can swim the length of the pool just one time and can wade for just fifteen second, I will let you pass this class.”

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