Outdoor baptisms mostly a thing of the past
by Ruth Baker
Oct 30, 2010 | 1707 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ruth Baker
Ruth Baker
All over the “Bible Belt” of the South, rural churches, which baptized by immersion, used the local creeks and rivers for this purpose.

There have been many stories from these days. One thing in common was that it was a big event. People came from miles around to watch the service. Every community had a place that was well known and the different churches used the same place. One thing required was a hole of water deep enough, and that was not always easy to find in the dry summer months.

There were two places in the little town near where we lived. The Holly Grove Bridge on Lost Creek was a favorite spot mainly because a large crowd could congregate on the bridge to watch instead of on the bank of the creek. It was like having a grandstand view. On the same creek farther down was the other often used place with a deep hole of water.

It was common for the teenage boys to climb trees nearby to have a “bird’s eye” view of the proceedings. Once in the middle of the service with a line of people in the water waiting their turn, the boys climbed a tree without examining their perching place. All at once unearthly screams erupted and the boys came running to the creek, dived into the water, and following them was a swarm of mad hornets! Their tree had a large hornet’s nest hanging and that may be where the phrase “Mad as a hornet!” came from. One thing was clear; it disrupted the services for a time.

I remember one baptismal service on this creek when I was a young girl. There were several prepared for the service.

One well-known young man of the community stepped forward and told the group he had repented at home and wished to be baptized. The chairman of the deacon board stepped forward, called the group to order and took a vote of the group whether to allow this young man to participate in the ordinance. The yes vote was unanimous. I always wondered why a vote had to be taken to let someone follow his conscience.

At one of these services, a young mother left her baby boy in the car with the windows rolled down and parked in a shade. During the service, someone noticed the car was rolling toward the creek. The mother dashed to the car and managed to get inside from the lower edge sloping toward the water. She grabbed the baby and threw him out the window on the upper side as the car hit the water. Before the shocked crowd could get into action, the car settled into the water and the young mother lost her life, leaving two daughters and the baby boy as well as her husband. One of these daughters became my sister-in-law several years after the tragedy.

One of the first inside baptisteries in our little town was at the First Baptist Church. It was unique at the time, and is still beautiful today after many years. It is molded to look like a part of an outdoor stream.

There is a lovely meadow with sheep grazing on the green grass. The church’s stained glass windows bear the names of most of the early families of the (at one time) large coal mining town.

The brave ones would be baptized in the dead of winter. Most churches held revivals in the summer and followed with an outdoor baptismal service. This seems to be a thing long gone the way of many other traditions.