BLOOMSBURY / MIDDLETOWN – “I knew I was ready,” said Allison Ferdinand, a member of Simply Grace UMC in Bloomsbury. “I just had a feeling, and I knew I had found home in my church community.”
Ferdinand trusted her feeling and publicly declared her newfound faith through the sacrament of baptism. She wanted a tangible experience to look back on and carry with her, so she decided to make it official on Nov. 20, 2016.
The church’s senior pastor, Rev. Gina Yeske, performed the baptism and was moved by the memorable occasion.
“It’s a community thing,” said Yeske, describing what baptism has meant for her and her church. “It’s relational, and everyone’s included.”
Over the years, Yeske had come across teens and young adults who longed for a baptism experience they could connect in a moment with a tangible memory.
“As a pastor, I thought perhaps this needs to be a little more hands on,” she said. “I’ve met people who lament not remembering, especially if they’ve been away from the church and have then come back.”
Yeske pairs joining new church members with water baptisms at Simply Grace to signify joining God’s family. There are not multiple baptisms in one day; rather each family gets their own special day to look back on.
“Many times, moms or dads who were never baptized themselves now want to baptize their kids who have come of age to accept Christ,” said Yeske. “And many of these parents also want to be baptized with their children.”
At Simply Grace, the idea is to make a public commitment of faith not only as an individual but as a community that’s together choosing to include and journey with the baptized. Families bring every-day household pitchers or containers to use for their baptism, whether that’s sprinkling or pouring.
“It brings the ordinary every-day into the story,” exclaimed Yeske. “And it engages an opportunity for people to remember their baptism, the commitment, their church family, and to retell that story.”
Over the last two years, Yeske’s church has done over 30 baptisms including infants, children, teens, and adults. The sacrament has become an important part of the church’s worship; stressing a kindship aspect and a coming alongside as a church community to raise children and or walk with someone in their faith. The congregation is heavily invested in baptism. Members hand craft blankets, not for display but to be used, serving as a constant reminder of one’s baptism, the public declaration of one’s faith, and the church family. One parishioner donates new Bibles to the newly baptized and another crafts Christmas ornaments.
Ferdinand’s baptism was especially significant for her mother, Phyllis, who watched her daughter’s public declaration of faith before passing away shortly after. Ferdinand hopes that like her mother, she’ll be able to see her son, Wyatt, 2, grow up to decide his baptism.
“We can guide our children in the right direction, but ultimately, I want this to be up to him,” said Ferdinand.
Baptism is celebrated in a variety of ways throughout Greater New Jersey. From sprinkling, pouring, dabbing and immersion, United Methodists uniquely honor all methods and traditions. Over the last two summers, several adults at Middletown UMC were baptized in the Atlantic Ocean. Additionally, a group from the church chose to be baptized in the Jordan River while on a trip to Israel.
“Recently, we have had young adults that have decided to follow Jesus and wanted to become baptized as a sign of that,” said Rev. Derrick Doherty of Middletown UMC. “Baptism is like a spiritual tattoo that can’t be washed off. It shows that we’re marked by God and set aside for God and through it we’re asking for God’s grace to be poured out on us.”
When infants are baptized at Middletown UMC, Doherty gives the parents a letter from himself to give to the child on their 14th birthday.
“The letter is between me and the child but I write that now that you’ve turned 14, I hope that you’ve chosen for yourself to follow God,” said Doherty. The letter invites the child to share with the pastor and reclaim and live into their baptism. Doherty looks forward to future responses.
As adult baptisms in GNJ continue to grow, so does a renewed passion that’s sparking interest and conversation among faith communities.
“I usually equate baptism with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry,” said Yeske. “The adults I know are getting baptized into the family of God and the ministry of the church.”
Reclaim the power of the Holy Spirit by rediscovering baptism. Resources available in November including liturgy, videos, graphics, a worship sermon series and much more. Look for updates in The GNJ Digest for more information and how to join the movement. Visit www.waterandroots.org