Baptism Sometimes Calls for Creativity

By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (February 23, 2012) – Most members of Immanuel Covenant Church are immigrants from around the world, and their theological preference for baptism generally is immersion. That has sometimes presented a problem for the congregation because like most of the churches built by Swedes in the late 1940s, it has no baptistery.

Installing a baptistery would have been far too expensive for the church, which also lacked the space. “So we got creative,” says pastor Linnea Carnes.

They bought a horse trough.

“We had joked about using a horse trough, but when we heard that Grace Covenant Church had one, we borrowed it last year and baptized three women during a Sunday morning worship service,” says Carnes. “Doing baptism in the context of the Sunday morning worship was so meaningful that our leadership team decided to invest in one of our own.”

The new “baptismal” is a galvanized trough seven feet long, two and a half feet wide and two feet deep, says Carnes. The church added a bucket heater, a pump and some cloth to cover the sides.

The church recently baptized additional members, and Carnes says the service was meaningful. She suggested that other congregations in similar circumstances consider purchasing a trough.

Some already have. In addition to Grace, a few of Evangelical Covenant Church plants also have used horse troughs, says Nils Peterson of the Department of Church Growth and Evangelism.

Riverside Covenant Church in Rhode Island, another established congregation, has used one for several years. “It’s worked out fine,” says Pastor Brian Estrella.

The troughs have their own logistical issues, says Estrella. The length means people need to kneel at the front. Getting the water out can be problematic, so a member drilled a hole towards the bottom of one side that can be attached to a PVC pipe, Estrella says.

The congregation has loaned the trough and the white linen used to drape it to two other churches, including Christ Church in East Greenwich. That congregation used it once when bad weather prohibited them from baptizing members at a local park.

Riverside is not the first congregation where Estrella has served that has had to be creative about their baptistery. A non-Covenant church where he previously served on staff used an inflatable hot tub.

Estrella laughs as he points out, “We’re good Covenanters. We still do infant baptism.”

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  1. I have been a Covenanter my whole life, growing up in Minnesota and California. I never saw an infant baptism until I moved to Chicago as an adult. My parents had a service of infant dedication for me at Park Avenue Covenant, Mpls. I was baptised as a believer at the age of 12 by Rev. Clarence Agard. I have always been thankful that baptism was a meaningful choice for me.

  2. Love the baptism tank. We have been using a cattle trough for years. We did aa few modifications: Had it painted at an auto body shop, had the inside of the tank sprayed with a spray-on truck bed liner. To heat the tank we use a cattle trough heater, a sump pump to move the water and a swim pool cover to preserve the heat and we take all this stuff out of the tank before the baptisms. 

    The way we look at It: Jesus was laid in a manger at birth. We baptise in a cattle trough.

    Hope Church
    Grand Forks.ND

  3. Wonderful article. I wonder if the Covenant will ever become so diverse that immersion will have an equal place as infant baptism. We kept more of the old Lutheran theological beliefs when we became part of the new Free Church movement in Sweden and the US than we needed to.
    I grew up, the early part of my life, in a very active Baptist church in Queens, Long Island. Though my parents had both grown up in Covenant homes and churches, moving to Jamestown, NY later where Mom had grown up, the strong emphasis on infant baptism posed some hard theological questions and issues for them and later for me. I finally decided that I had to leave the issue in God´s hands, The problem for me is that so many folks seem to think that baptism and confirmation means that you are safe and there is no clear understanding of what it means to know that you are born again and have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

  4. Great story. Thanks for sharing. Our district (The Lake Superior District in Northern MN/WI–Iron Range/Duluth/Superior/Northern WI area) bought a baptistry or baptismal tank about the same size several years back. It has a heater, etc. Several in our area still prefer however to go to the lake in the summer, even a service at our district covenant camp.

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