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Photo Friday: Reviving a Tradition? Creekside Baptisms in the Brethren in Christ Church

Richard Lehman (left), pastor of Millerfield Brethren in Christ Church in Kentucky, performs a baptism in Sulphur Creek, near the church. (Courtesy of Columbia Magazine)

“A trip down memory lane” is how one Columbia Magazine reporter characterized the recent creekside baptism conducted near the Millerfield Brethren in Christ Church in Kentucky.

Admittedly, there is a certain nostalgia associated with the practice of creekside baptisms, especially among communities like the Brethren in Christ (not to mention Mennonites, other Brethren, and many Holiness and Pentecostal communities). Here at The Search for Piety and Obedience, we’ve written before about the Brethren in Christ’s historical practice of baptizing new members in creeks, lakes, and other bodies of water.

But have creekside baptisms really been relegated to “the dustbin of history”? My sense is they have not. I know that my parents’ church, Carlisle Brethren in Christ, regularly conducts baptismal services in the local Conodoguinet Creek. I believe the Grantham Church does (or did) regularly baptize new believers in the Yellow Breeches Creek on the Messiah College campus.

Readers: Do you know of other Brethren in Christ congregations that still observe baptisms in bodies of water (rather than church baptismals, etc.)? Do you recall these kind of creekside baptisms from your childhood? Share your thoughts and memories below!

12 responses to “Photo Friday: Reviving a Tradition? Creekside Baptisms in the Brethren in Christ Church

  1. We just had a creekside baptism service this summer, and in recent years it has been the preference for many, especially teens.

  2. I think that Conoy BIC in E-town had one in the past year in the creek where the earliest BIC baptisms where held. You’d have to check with Pastor Al Frank to confirm that, but I think that he had told me this.

  3. When we began attending a local Presbyterian Church, the issue of infant baptism came up for our only (at that time) child. He was about 8 at the time, and my BIC upbringing must have kicked in, because I resisted the idea. However, after some discussion with the minister, it was decided that our son would be baptized. The concession to us was that it would be done by trine immersion, and that it would be done in the lake at our cottage. A beautiful sunny day came along, and after ferrying about 75 people to our island cottage by boat, we had an “almost-BIC” baptismal service for our son, and for two other pre-teens (and friends of ours) from the congregation.

  4. I was ten years old when I was baptized in a stream and it was a memorable but not so spiritual experience. I never liked having my head under water. As I waded into the water, assisted by my uncle bishop, the hydraulic pressure on my chest was suffocating. I got on my knees in fear and trembling. We were not set for the action to begin. When my head was pushed under the water my feet were swept out from under me. I was thrashing around and trying to get my feet on something solid all the while spitting and sputtering like a two cylinder John Deere which needed an engine tun-up. Finally order was restored and I braced my self for the remaining gymnastics. I am a survivor but theological understanding of the circus like performance had to wait for several years. At least I could say, I “done” it.

  5. I was baptized in the Racoon river near Dallas Center, Iowa by Bishop Ray Witter, circa 1941 (I was 11 or 12) and thought I would drown. I was terrified by having my head put under water but the good Bishop persevered three times although I stood up each time spitting and sputtering. A spiritual experience?? Hardly. But I was very happy once it was over. At that time, after being baptized, girls put their hair up and put on a covering and took communion. I liked that.
    Bonnie Frey

  6. Devin, we had a baptism in the Mohican River few couple years ago where the current was so strong that I had a man across from me, downstream, “just in case” one of the young people I was baptizing “got away”. It was an awesome experience with about 85 ABCers on the bank of the river to celebrate each of the 7 who got baptized that day. Since then, including the Sunday before you were here with us back and September and Sunday October 14, we have used a cattle tank loaned to us us from the local farmers’ coop.

  7. I remember my grandmother telling me about her baptism in the Batteaux River behind the old Stayner BIC Church. She was baptized in December (I believe) and told us that they had to chip the ice off the water. Hardier stock than I am, that’s for sure. Grandma was born in 1899, so I imagine this would have been in the early 1920’s, if not earlier. I can’t recall who baptized her, but it could well have been her grandfather, Bishop Charles Baker, whose life has been chronicled in one of Dr. E. Morris Sider’s books.

  8. In 1960, I was baptized in the river at Macha Mission in Zambia, by then-bishop David Climenhaga. I came home from boarding school for the love feast weekend. I don’t remember the baptism as a particularly spiritual experience. I was kneeling on rocks and I was terrified of being dunked. As I think about it now, I feel blessed to have been part of a group of about 50 Zambian Christians being baptized and joining the Brethren in Christ Church.

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