Elvis Presley and His American Trilogy of Baptisms

The grave of Elvis Presley at Graceland, Presley’s home in Memphis, is seen Jan. 8, 2010, Presley’s 75th birthday. This year marks the 40th anniversary of his death.
(Photo: Mark Humphrey, AP)

Forty years of wandering the earth without Elvis hasn’t diminished the religious fervor of his faithful fans.

This week, more Elvis fans than ever are expected to make their annual pilgrimage to commiserate and commemorate his Aug. 16, 1977, death.

They will go to Memphis and walk tenderly and mournfully with lit candles through Graceland’s Meditation Garden where he was laid to rest.

They will go to Mississippi and sit and stand prayerfully inside the East Tupelo First Assembly of God where he first learned to love the Lord and play the guitar.

They will visit the sacred shotgun house where he was born, the iconic recording studio where he was born again, any shrine that bears his mark and memory.

Many will be moved. Some will weep. A few will simply fall down, as if slain by the spirit.

The wonder of Elvis Presley.

A pauper’s son who became the King of Rock and Roll.

A dirt-poor Pentecostal kid whose love for Southern gospel music propelled him to secular fame, fortune and folly.

An evangelical entertainer of deep, abiding and conflicting faith who wore a cross and a Star of David, prayed and meditated, sang spirituals and read The Tao Te Ching.

“All I want is to know the truth, to know and experience God. I’m a searcher, that’s what I’m all about,” Elvis told a friend late in life, according to Gary Tillery’s The Seeker King.

Elvis was baptized, undoubtedly, as a child by a Trinitarian Pentecostal preacher in Tupelo, Miss.

He was re-baptized, reportedly, as a young teenager by a Oneness Pentecostal preacher in Memphis.

He also was baptized, posthumously, by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Multiple baptisms aren’t uncommon here in the land of religious liberty, where beliefs and practices vary widely, even within various Christian denominations.

Elvis grew up in the heart of the Pentecostal South at East Tupelo First Assembly of God, where his parents met and his great-uncles were co-pastors.

The Assemblies of God, the world’s largest Pentecostal body, follow the traditional triune formula found in Matthew 28:19: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

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David Waters, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal

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