ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–“People are going to die tonight.”
Not quite the first words most congregations want to hear from their pastor.
But that is what David Uth said as an introduction to “Not Ashamed,” a three-service celebration of baptism at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., June 27-28. In all, 337 people were baptized, including 10 at the church’s Ocoee venue.
Seventy-three were baptized in the Saturday night service, 60 in Sunday’s early service and 194 in Sunday’s later service.
Uth, the church’s senior pastor, followed up his introduction with an explanation of the symbolism of baptism, specifically how submersion represents the believer’s dying to self.
For Uth, the weekend was the culmination of a dream he has had since beginning at First Baptist Orlando in 2005. Over the years, it occurred to him that baptism is one of his favorite things to do as a pastor.
“This is history for us,” Uth said Saturday night. “This is one of the most incredible nights we’ve ever had.”
By evening’s end, the excitement was almost palpable. The momentum carried through the next day during the two morning services.
So, how does a church pull off such a large ceremony in an orderly fashion? Well, it takes a lot of planning, a lot of pastors and a lot of cooperation from those being baptized.
And First Baptist Orlando had all three.
The baptisms were performed in five troughs placed on the platform and occurred periodically throughout each service. Those being baptized came out in groups, with each individual wearing a brown robe. Then, one by one, each would state his or her name, followed by the words, “Jesus is my Lord. I am not ashamed.” With that, they would remove their robes, revealing a shirt with the words, “Not Ashamed,” then step into the trough to be baptized.
“If you could see our Heavenly Father up there, He’d be smiling,” Uth said. “He will be cheering. The angels will be cheering.”
He explained to those being baptized the significance of their actions.
“You will do a lot of things in your life that will make you proud, but nothing like tonight,” Uth said, over and again. “Way to step up, guys!”
Far surpassing the sight of multiple baptisms in the church’s auditorium and via the Internet, however, was the incredible sense of elation expressed by those who were baptized.
Jaime Romano, 31, who was baptized along with her fiancé, was like many others during the weekend — people who accepted Jesus at a young age but either never got baptized or didn’t comprehend the significance of it.
Romano explained how she was saved at 15 but did not understand the importance of baptism for obedience, or at least she did not take it serious enough. “It took me this long to figure it out,” she said.
But she said she felt release from her previous disobedience.
“Once I came out of the water, it was like a snake shedding its skin,” Romano said. “I feel clean, uplifted and amazing.”
“It’s something I can hardly put into words,” Anna Ginter said. “It’s all for the glory of God. I feel like I’m just beaming.”
For Ginter, like many of those baptized, Not Ashamed represented the response to a longtime call. She had surrendered her life to Christ 40 years ago, but had not followed her repentance with believer’s baptism.
“When we had the [Atlantic Ocean] baptisms [May 17, 2009], I really felt the calling to do it, but I struggled with it.”
But when this new opportunity arose, Ginter was not about to let it pass. “To be a part of this and to stand up for myself and for God … it was a real obedience thing. I’ve been through a lot in 40 years, and this was my way of surrendering to God.”
For 19-year-old Gary Butcher, his baptism came shortly after his new beginning.
“I was in trouble a couple of months ago and knew I had to get my life straightened out,” Butcher said. He cried out for Jesus and since then had been “praying to Jesus to help me fix my life.”
When he walked into the service Saturday night, Butcher said he was dealing with his need to be obedient in baptism, but he had no idea there would be a huge baptism service.
“It was a total surprise to me,” Butcher said. “I knew I needed to get baptized. When the pastor made the invitation for anyone to come up and be baptized, I knew I had to do it.”
Also not ashamed was Maryann Grabach, 47.
“Three weeks ago I was sitting in the congregation when Pastor Uth preached about baptism,” she said. “He really touched me, and I felt like that service was just for me. I thought he was talking directly to me.”
Grabach said she had been baptized as a baby but not as a born-again believer.
“When Pastor Uth spoke, I realized that this was my time and that I needed to do it.”
Grabach said that even though baptism is not salvific, it is a special commemoration of what Christ has done for the world and what He has done in her.
“It was absolutely awesome,” Grabach said. “It was something I had never experienced. When I came up out of the water, it was incredible, absolutely great.”
David Ettinger is a staff writer and editor at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla. This article first appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness, online at floridabaptistwitness.com.