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'A day to celebrate:' Church to erect pool for citywide baptism service


Bishop Rosie S. O'neal baptizes a woman in a swimming pool in 2016. Koinonia Christian Center Church is hosting another citywide baptism on Saturday. “This is an opportunity to encourage a little bit more unity around the city," O'neal said. "It's not a racial thing. It's not an economic thing. It's just people who love Jesus."


By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The swimming pool being set up at Koinonia Christian Center Church on Saturday is not to welcome summer. It is to welcome sinners.

The church, at 1405 S.W. Greenville Blvd., will host a citywide baptism service on the front lawn, beginning at 5 p.m. Converts to Christianity are invited to take part in the ordinance of baptism in an above-ground pool.

Dozens of people, including some who attend Koinonia and other area churches, are expected to take part.

Bishop Rosie S. O'neal, Koinonia's senior pastor, said the unorthodox setting is intended to make baptism accessible to people who want to commit themselves to the Christian faith but who may not yet attend church.

“What we've found is that quite a few people, because of media, television, radio and particularly social media, are coming in contact with the love of God expressed through Christ in a variety of ways that may not be within the four walls of the traditional church.” she said. “Because of that, we feel that it is important that we reach out to that population and afford them an opportunity to celebrate their faith in Christ and be water baptized. ... We just make it a day to celebrate.”

The New Testament includes several examples of water baptism, including that of Jesus, who was said to have been baptized by his cousin as an adult. But the practice of baptism differs among Christian denominations. Some churches sprinkle or pour water over a person's head. Others, including Koinonia, immerse people entirely in water.

At Koinonia's original location, baptisms took place in a traditional baptismal pool in the sanctuary. Other churches that did not have pools were invited to take part in baptism services at Koinonia, O'neal said.

Though Koinonia constructed a baptismal pool at its new location, the church began conducting baptisms in other settings. O'neal has baptized people in swimming pools, lakes and rivers.

“Though I am intensely appreciative of the traditions that reinforce vibrant faith, I do not think it is wise to try to box God in to some of our cultural or traditional preferences,” she said.

O'neal points to the biblical example of an Ethiopian eunuch who learned about Scripture from one of Jesus' disciples while traveling through a desert area outside Jerusalem. As soon as the two men came to a body of water, the new convert was baptized without ever having been inside a church.

Still, O'neal said, a citywide baptism is not intended to be a replacement for church. Participants in Saturday's service will be given information on how to become involved in church, along with a commemorative T-shirt.

“There's a support system that exists or should exist in churches,” she said. “The Scripture talks about (God) sets the solitary in families. He doesn't just leave us out there by ourselves.

“I believe it is the will of God that every believer be a part of, submitted to, accountable to and serving in a local assembly,” O’neal said.

At Koinonia's last citywide baptism, held in 2015, nearly 70 people were baptized. Alexis Grady was one of them.

The Charlotte native, who began attending Koinonia when she was a student at East Carolina University, grew up in a church where people were baptized in a more traditional setting, in a baptismal pool in the sanctuary. But she was not uncomfortable with the idea of being baptized in a swimming pool.

“I was actually excited it was outside in front of people in the community,” Grady said. “This was another way for me to publicly declare my faith and my relationship with God. I think that was very inspirational for people who may not have a strong relationship to God because this is showing them that you have an opportunity to do the same thing.”

O'neal said the relationship is more significant that the ritual, explaining that baptism is not a commitment to Christianity but is a symbol of that commitment.

“In some ways, baptism reminds me of a wedding ring,” she said. “You're making the commitment is what joins you together. But it is the symbol that you are sold out to another person.

“That's really what it's about. It is an outward sign of an inward grace that's been received,” O'neal said. “It says a life-altering commitment has been made to Christ.”