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Area celebrates historical baptism

In the pulpit

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POSTED: September 7, 2009 12:28 p.m.
On Aug. 30, the bright morning sun shone down on the residents of Riceboro as they gathered to witness a historical baptism service. Many arrived early to the First African Baptist Church at the Crossroads in Riceboro.
In this age of indoor, heated baptismal pools, the crowd prepared to go back in time and participate in a traditional outdoor baptism. Long ago, people were baptized in rivers or creeks.
Dorothy Brunson, 100, and Mary L. Baggs, 99, sat quietly inside the church, dressed in white baptism outfits. Each said she could remember the days when they were baptized in the river — the same river they were about to be symbolically reimmersed in.
The audience buzzed with excitement, but participants and witnesses quickly found their seats and ended conversations as the program began. The church’s bell tolled as the congregation sang, “Come by Here.”
The Rev. Edgar Timmons, moderator of the Progressive Missionary Baptist Sunday School Convention and Association, offered an opening prayer, Dr. Lelia Jones read from Matthew 28:19-20 and a few other speakers took the podium.
“We are reaching back into the past and embracing our legacy. When people don’t understand who they are, they are sometimes ashamed. We are proud of the legacy, and we want to thank them. We are going to a holy place where people used to profess their faith,” said Dr. Modibo Kadalie.
After the speakers had finished, the crowd filed out of the church to the river while Brunson and Baggs rode in a buggy. Deacon Benny Carter of Baconton Missionary Baptist Church in Walthourville transported some senior citizens in the church’s van while others chose to walk the short distance to the river.   
Marching alongside the river, the crowd sang and reminisced. The chorus of “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” rose above the procession as they neared the baptism site.
Baggs told the crowd that when she was baptized, they sang an old song and with a strong, clear voice, she crooned, “Down to the sacred way, the Lord Christ was laid. And he who gave our soul to save, in Jordan bowed his head.”  
“That’s the real song we sang when I was baptized,” Baggs said.
Timmons performed the baptism ceremonies, using a mannequin dressed in white so Brunson and Baggs didn’t have to wade into the river water.
“Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. All the region came to be baptized of John the Baptist. Jesus even came to John to be baptized. Baptism is one of the ordinances of the church. It is an outward show of an inward change. We thank God for these soldiers who are coming back to symbolically do it again,” Timmons said.  
As Timmons submerged the mannequins, the audience sang, “Take Me to the Water” and “Down by the Riverside.”
“I feel pretty good. I am trying to visualize the exact spot,” Baggs said. Brunson echoed Baggs’ sentiment, saying she felt alright.
At the service’s conclusion, the crowd walked back to First African for Sunday school, services and dinner.

Anderson is the author of “Lack of Knowledge” and “Dare to Soar.”
 

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