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Baptisms at Disney resort reflect upswing in outdoor services

ORLANDO (BP)–Southern Baptist churches are rediscovering the practice of public baptisms in local lakes as a byproduct of the SBC’s renewed emphasis on baptism. First Baptist Church in Orlando and Lake Talquin Baptist Church in Tallahassee are among those that have taken the ordinance out of its usual stained-glass surroundings.

More than 500 attended First Baptist’s service at the Disney Contemporary Resort north beach May 21.

The manmade lake, just adjacent to Disney’s Magic Kingdom, was the site of 95 baptisms of believers ranging in age from 7 to 88. Some couples and families were immersed together, including the Scalzo family of five.

The 95 baptisms were a record number for the church in one service, which lasted almost an hour, and included congregational singing to guitar accompaniment.

An Orlando Sentinel article described the baptism service at Disney World as “the latest act of reconciliation between the entertainment giant and evangelical Christians.”

The Southern Baptist Convention voted in 2005 to end its boycott of Disney, begun in 1997, over concern that the entertainment conglomerate had abandoned its family friendly values.

For the baptism service, Disney Contemporary Resort’s convention services department provided restroom facilities, water, a sound system and chairs on the beach.

First Baptist media/communication pastor Steve Smith said some who were baptized had been attending the church a long time but had never been baptized.

“This unique opportunity prompted them to follow through in their obedience,” Smith told the Florida Baptist Witness.

Lake Talquin Baptist Church in Tallahassee held its first lake baptism April 30 in what pastor Milton Harrington told the Witness may become an annual event.

Most boaters and fishermen stopped their activities while Harrington baptized nine people in Lake Talquin as church members and visitors watched from the shore. Harrington wore an “Everyone Can” T-shirt from the 2005 Crossover evangelistic outreach in Nashville. Everyone Can is the theme of the Southern Baptist Convention’s year-long emphasis on baptizing 1 million people.

The Tallahassee congregation moved its morning worship service to the Williams Landing boat ramp at the manmade lake. Church members parked at a nearby ball field and rode the church van to the lakeshore, where they sat in lawn chairs to view the baptisms.

Harrington recounted that a mother drove 21 miles from downtown Tallahassee with her two teenagers for the service. The teens made professions of faith during the service and were among the nine baptized.

The church decided to plan the outdoor ordinance after the long-range planning team proposed planning more community events. Harrington said he attended a recent conference with other church leaders in the Florida Baptist Association, “The Present Future Church,” which also spurred him to plan the event.

“We want to do it again,” the pastor said. “It brought back a lot of memories for church members who were baptized in lakes and rivers.”

The congregation, which averages 130 on Sunday morning, totaled 165 for the outdoor service and picnic lunch.
Carolyn Nichols is a writer for the Florida Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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