They were clothed in white cottas, the twenty-three who were being baptized; among them were infants, young folks and adults - some were in family units, most were not . . . but all were excited about what was to come. Joining them were the thirty-two adults who would shortly be recommitting themselves to their baptismal covenants made years ago - other than a love for Jesus, they had very little in common. Standing in the rising waters of the May River, we joined the hundreds on the bluff adjacent to the Historic Campus and the spectators gathered on nearby docks or floating in boats and kayaks: to sing "Shall We Gather at the River" - to respond to the liturgy - to hear a personal testimony - to sing "Down to the River To Pray" - to be immersed, hugged and kissed - and then to be surrounded again by brothers and sisters in Christ to the strains of "O Happy Day" - wow, what a God-honoring moment!
Why conduct such an unusual service? Why not inside the church on a Sunday morning like we do every month? Why advertise it and invite people to bring friends? The answer: aside from the obvious impact on those directly involved, to make a public profession of our faith and to underscore our desire to engage the community beyond our doors with the Good News of God in Christ. And praise the Lord, we accomplished both. The Island Packet carried a front page picture and article the next day and Bluffton Packet followed a few days later with another article and more pictures. In fact, the picture above was taken by folks passing in a boat.
Images courtesy of The (Hilton Head) Island Packet, Bluffton Packet
My friends, we must reach beyond the safety of our walls and risk being criticized for using non-traditional approaches if we are to be obedient to our baptismal covenants in the 21st century . . . we must have "the courage to will and to persevere" as we "confess the faith of Christ crucified and proclaim his resurrection" (BCP p. 308) . . . come Holy Spirit, make it be so!
Please click the link below to read The (Hilton Head) Island Packet's article about the River Baptism.