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In the Atlantic surf, 350 show their faith

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (BP)–After nearly a month and a half of seasonal afternoon rains, the sun broke through the clouds to shine brightly at Fort Lauderdale Beach as 350 believers were baptized in the surf in mid-September.

In a similar manner last year, Flamingo Road Church in Fort Lauderdale baptized 260 in the mild waters at the famous white-sand beach. The church led the state in baptisms in 2005 after baptizing 534, a 97 percent increase over the 271 baptized in 2004.

More than 1,000 people from Flamingo Road Church’s multiple campuses and ministries grilled burgers and connected at the beach before the ocean baptisms.

Prayers and rejoicing in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Hungarian rose above the sound of the waves as six church staffers baptized those who had attended a “Basics” class and others who signed up after listening to senior pastor Troy Gramling preach on the importance of scriptural baptism in the weeks leading up to the service.

The growing church has campuses in Cooper City and Doral, Fla., and Hispanic, Brazilian and Hungarian ministries. Average worship attendance, now at about 4,700, is up about 1,500 over the same time last year.

Although the church has baptisms throughout the year, Gramling said the beach setting allows the Flamingo Road congregation to connect to each other, with family and friends and the community in a unique, relaxed atmosphere.

“It’s still a holy moment though,” Gramling told the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal. “The beautiful day,” he added in reference to the unexpected sunshine, “was a reminder of who we are doing it for.”

During the service, Gramling said he was especially impacted by a woman and her son who drove down from Atlanta to witness the baptism of the woman’s daughter. “We got to pray for all of them and just see the excitement in their lives,” Gramling said.

Another memorable experience was the baptism of a man from the Doral campus who had a stroke about three years ago. He had not been in the water since that time, the pastor said, and had to be helped in and out of the surf.

Gramling, an Arkansas native, said in his Bible belt experience “when people trust God, they get baptized.” Not necessarily so in South Florida, he said. “It’s a second decision, and when you see them making that decision, it’s a step of growth.

“It’s so exciting when you see that,” Gramling added, “because you are really able to celebrate. Not just because it’s a religious formality, but because they are purposefully making a decision to follow Christ and taking advantage of making that decision.”

John Fleming, director of missions for the Gulf Stream Baptist Association, commended the church for its ministry in the association and the community.

“I am proud of the fact that here is a contemporary-styled church very safely holding to the doctrine of baptism and membership,” Fleming told the Witness. “I think they have evolved into a wonderful model for all types of churches to follow. It thrills me because they are contemporary … and have so carefully adhered to our Baptist doctrine.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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