Sunday, September 8, 2019 wasn’t the warmest early fall day and the St. Lawrence River had already begun to cool. Nevertheless, seven people from our faith community elected to be baptized (or renew their baptismal vows) through full immersion in the river. It’s powerful to witness members of our faith community proclaiming, through baptism, their desire to follow our crucified and risen saviour.
We do this service at Wall Street United Church annually. We start off by sharing a barbecue in a local park followed by an outdoor worship service. Each candidate for baptism shares a short testimony and professes their baptismal vows. Then we journey down to the river together.
Despite the grumbling about how cold it was (including me!), nearly everyone baptized at these services reports back how powerful this experience was for them. After they emerge from the water they go back to shore, where they receive a personal blessing from members of our lay leadership team as they’re wrapped in a dry towel. We usually have a few people for whom this is their first baptism. For most, however, it’s a renewal of the baptism they received as infants.
Wall Street United Church has an evening service and study group that’s geared towards those in recovery from drugs and alcohol, as well as others with “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” Our annual outdoor service is an extension of this. Those who choose immersion baptism or renewal truly want to close a chapter in their lives. As stated in Romans, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4).
They are ready to follow Jesus, to join the church, and, alongside their siblings in Christ, to make a difference beyond themselves.
I spoke with one woman who was baptized the day after our service. She told me how incredibly meaningful her immersion was to her. She said she had tears streaming down her face as she went to change out of her cold, wet clothes. It’s truly a highlight of our church year.
—The Rev. Kimberley Heath is the minister at Wall Street United Church, Brockville, ON