Alabama churches find creative ways to keep people from waiting months for baptism
By Grace Thornton
PELL CITY, Ala. (BP) — When 94-year-old Eunice Case knew it was time to be baptized, it didn’t matter to her that a global pandemic was taking place.
Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, Paul Brasher, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Pell City, Ala., had been preaching at the retirement home where Case lives.
“I’ve known Mrs. Eunice a little while,” he said. “She called me after COVID hit and said, ‘I want you to know something. You were preaching a few months back, and I realized I never got baptized. It was never really emphasized in the churches I was in.'”
Case had been thinking on that, and around the same time, she was also diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Brasher said she told him she didn’t know how much time she had left, and she wanted to do it as quickly as she could as a witness to her family.
So Brasher contacted Joe Karr, pastor of Cook Springs Baptist Church, a nearby Pell City church that didn’t have as many stairs leading to the baptistery as New Hope does. Brasher, Case and members of Case’s family met at Cook Springs on a Wednesday afternoon. They sang, and then Brasher spoke a few words and baptized Case just as she wanted.
“It was really neat,” Brasher said. “She called it a recognition of what had happened in her heart. It made her feel like she did what she was supposed to do.”
All over Alabama during the COVID-19 crisis, churches have found creative ways to keep people from waiting months for baptism, if that’s what they desired.
Clinton Branch, pastor of Old Providence Baptist Church in Goodwater, Ala., got a text in the middle of those weeks of social distancing from a young man asking if they could talk — and talk now.
Before the COVID-19 restrictions, the man had come occasionally to services at Old Providence. But when the church pressed pause on meeting in person, he watched the church’s messages streamed on Facebook, and he found he couldn’t just sit still.
“He sent me a text one day and asked if I would come by and talk to him because he had a lot of questions, and of course my answer was yes,” Branch said. “I knew that he was really searching for some answers.”
Branch went over that day — a Friday — after the young man got off work, and the two men spent three hours in Bible study and conversation.
“As a result of that, he gave his life to the Lord,” Branch said.
When they talked about baptism, the young man said he didn’t want to wait until the church was back meeting together again. So the following Monday, they gathered a few of his friends and family for a small baptism ceremony at the church.
“I told him, ‘if you don’t want to wait, I don’t want to wait,'” Branch said.
First Baptist Church, Chickasaw, Ala., also baptized a young woman who heard the Gospel through the church’s ministry on Facebook. Pastor Reid Guy baptized her one day at the church in a small group setting, then they played the video back during the church’s livestreamed Sunday service.
First Baptist Church, Silas, Ala., recently baptized 8-year-old Delton Taylor in the church baptistery after outdoor revival services there.
And Jim Tate, pastor of Memphis Baptist Church, Dothan, helped take the baptistery to the Baptist Village, a ministry of the Alabama Baptist Retirement Centers, when a resident wanted to be baptized but wasn’t able to leave.
Tate said Marie Cook, manager of the Baptist Village, called him and “said she had a gentleman there who had been asking questions about baptism.”
“He got together with Marie and Shelby Battles, a member of our church who works there, and they talked with him about salvation,” Tate said. “They became convinced that he had received Christ, that there had been a demonstration of God’s work in his life in that he realized he’d never followed through with believer’s baptism.”
But bringing baptism to Larry Stokes was going to be an unusual challenge.
“He’s on oxygen and limited in how he’s able to get around,” Tate said.
Even so, Stokes was determined, and because of that, so were Tate and Cook. Tate talked to a local supply store, where he obtained a trough he could use on the Baptist Village patio.
Cook and Battles heated water and filled it up little by little, then they fitted Stokes with a mask and helped him into the makeshift baptismal pool.
“It was just a special, special time,” Tate said. “He was able to identify with the body of Christ, and that was so important to him.”
At Bethel Baptist Church in Jones, Ala., some church members who were also volunteer firefighters came to the rescue with a giant water tank from the fire department.
“We had a young man who had gotten saved, and he said, ‘I just want to be baptized,'” said Regina Coburn, whose husband Rob formerly served there as pastor. “Because we were out of the building during the COVID-19 crisis, we thought, ‘How are we going to get this young man baptized?'”
When the firefighters in the congregation mentioned the station’s water tank, she pictured a dunk tank, she said — but what they showed up with was something that held 3,000 gallons of water. They filled it up right there on the baseball field where the church was conducting drive-in services, and Rob Coburn baptized the young man, Dylan Pairrett, on the first base line. As he came up out of the water, church members honked their car horns.
When they were finished, the firefighters just pumped the water right back into the truck.
“It was a very special day,” Regina Coburn said. “and it was a very creative way to do it that worked out great.”
At Siloam Baptist Church in Marion, the church made use of something it had had all along — the Cahaba River. For the past several years, the church has occasionally held baptismal services at the river. COVID-19 just gave them a good reason.
“It went beautifully and wonderfully well,” pastor John Nicholson said of the day they baptized two young women. “It was a joyful day for us.”
If not for Kentucky churches shutdown, souls might ‘never been saved’
By Robin Cornetet
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Since the pandemic shutdown, some west Kentucky pastors said they are seeing an unexpected increase in salvation decisions.
Jody Kilburn, head of the Christian County Baptist Association, said when COVID-19 shut down churches across Kentucky in March, few were pushed outside their comfort zone like pastors of rural churches.
“COVID not only came in and upset the status quo, it changed our priorities and showed us we need to be presenting the Gospel in new ways,” Kilburn said.
Small Baptist churches in the association, like Olivet and New Barren Springs, rarely have what most would call a robust social media presence. While both churches have a page on Facebook and use it regularly to connect with members, neither had ventured into streaming Sunday morning worship services on the social media platform.
Kilburn said pastors quickly realized while their churches may be closed to in-person worship, they still had a flock that needed to be shepherded. In a matter of days, Olivet and New Barren Springs had moved to Facebook Live for sermons and Sunday School classes.
“You can’t stop change so you might as well embrace it,” Kilburn said, of the near-overnight technological switch. The church also instituted online giving options for the first time.
Perhaps the most unexpected result of embracing change was that by getting online and helping the community in new ways, both churches were reaching more people with the Gospel — and in return, people responded.
Paul Bunger, pastor of Olivet Baptist Church in Herndon, led a mother and her college-aged daughter to the Lord after an online presentation of the 3 Circles Gospel interpretation.
“What this says to me is we need to continue our online presence,” Bunger said. “People are out there searching and looking for answers.”
Amber Emberton and her daughter Kenzie were baptized by Bunger June 14 in front of a small group of onlookers practicing appropriate social distancing. By contrast, the service containing the ceremony has been viewed more than 200 times on Facebook. According to records in the Annual Church Profile, Olivet Baptist’s average Sunday worship attendance before the coronavirus was 50.
“We would not have gone to online services if not for the coronavirus,” Bunger said.
Chuck Poe, pastor of New Barren Springs Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, Ky., said COVID-19 prompted his church to initiate a food ministry in the community that led to the salvation decision of a woman who had been attending the church for 12 years.
“She accepted Jesus on Mother’s Day,” said Poe, who was called to the church earlier this year. “It was one of those neat experiences that God did, and I got to be a part of.”
Poe said the pandemic pushed his church to think beyond their usual means of reaching people. Not only are worship services online, but Sunday school teachers from 84 to 26 years old are teaching online — and with “quadrupled” attendance.
After reporting only one baptism since 2016, the number of salvation decisions is what’s most exciting.
“I have about four people waiting to be baptized, and we’re hoping to see more,” Poe said.
Kilburn said among the lessons to be learned from these two pastors is no matter the location of the church or number of members who regularly attend, churches can learn new skills and expand their reach for Christ.
“God is giving us a wonderful opportunity,” Kilburn said, to connect with local communities in new and relevant ways. “Just think,” he said, “If these two churches didn’t have an online presence, those people may have never been saved.”