Wednesday, January 19, 2011

River baptism

This sounds like a foaf story, but my friend Sue got an e-mail from her daughter-in-law whose friend's husband Jim Linderman of Grand Rapids, Michigan, donated a collection of photographs of river baptisms (1st image, I added the 2nd and 3rd), one over a yard long.

Who: The tradition flourished from 1880 to 1930 among traditional Protestants. Charismatic preachers led the ceremony before entire fundamentalist rural communities.

What: "Take Me To the Water"

When: The donor will be there for the opening of the exhibit Thursday, 1/20/11. Linderman describes the collection, "Over the course of 10 years, I collected every photograph I could find of people participating in the ritual of immersion baptism. Initially, I found my baptism photos at flea markets and such. If I spotted one while browsing through boxes and baskets of photographs, I treated it like a prize and filed it away at home..."

Where: International Center of Photography in New York City (please contact ICP for details)

Why: The rite of baptism signified purity or cleansing from sin and devotion to God. In the Old Testament (John 1:33), John was directed by God to baptize those who accepted his message.

How: I paraphrase an article by Annie Staten and Susan Roach:
"As late as the 1950s, outdoor baptism was common. Even though the majority of churches had indoor baptismal pools, some chose to maintain the earlier, natural setting for this rite of passage, a symbolic ritual purification and initiation. Baptisms were generally held during the summer or early fall so the water would be warm enough. A 2-week-long revival meeting featuring prayer meetings and a guest minister would be followed by an outdoor baptism. A suitable spot in waist-deep water was chosen and the participants were lined up by age and clothed in traditional robes, and the service (hymns, scripture reading, and prayer) was begun. With sermons before and after, the minister baptizes the candidates one by one with a ritual statement, and immersed them. They were brought out of the water with embraces, songs, and applause, and helped to dry off. Inside the church, they are administratively pledged into the congregation, and they remove their headgear."


  1. Thank you very much! Jim Linderman
    Dull Tool Dim Bulb

  2. My church is small and has no baptismal font. So over the twenty seven or so years that I have been a member, we have used lakes, ponds, rivers, a horse trough, and a kiddie pool. More recently we have been able to borrow a portable font.

    I was baptised in a lake at a church campout. I think I shocked the church folks when I strode out of my tent wearing a pretty small speedo. I was a swimmer in college and it was the only swim suit I had! I couldn't see any sense in getting my clothes all wet. I have helped baptize lots and lots of folks. It was usually me and the pastor. I got the job because I was big :-)

    Sorry to see that you have broken your leg. I hope you are more mobile again soon. I admire your courage and sense of humor in dealing with such challenges.

    My wife, Barbara, and I are caregivers for her dad (89 with fairly advanced Alzheimer's). That's one reason I tend to fall behind on reading your blog posts. I still love your blog. I wound up putting both of my blogs on a shelf for a while. Just don't have the creative spark and energy right now. I am also working part time as a peer counselor for my county. Psychiatrists and other therapists can refer folks to me for help in their recovery. Most county patients are quite ill. That too has been consuming time and energy. Overall though, I am doing well.

    May God bless you and give you patience as you heal.


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