August 16th you’ll have a chance to witness or participate in one of the more … let’s say unique events that happens annually in Brantford. Freedom House joins together with a number of other churches to present the annual “Baptism in the Square.” You know why it’s called that? It’s because it’s baptisms; in Harmony Square. Clever name eh?
This will be the 4th summer of hosting this experience publicly with the open invitation for all to come. In the three years, roughly 300 people have come and participated in this 2000 year old tradition and we expect to see another hundred or more this summer as well. It’s a safe statement to say that “Baptism in the Square” has created a lot of “chatter” around town.
First of all, you’ll notice that the ad for this event includes a coupon for One Free Baptism. That’s certainly not the everyday approach to this process. But it’s simply a tool to garner a further dialog in for individuals internally or externally between on-another.
“Aren’t Baptisms ALWAYS free?” people often ask. “Of course they are” is the response, “and it’s free for you too.” The truth is that many in their teens, 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s have grown up without church attendance being the default setting in the cultural outplaying of their lives. They’ve heard about baptisms, or even attended the baptism of a friend’s child in a traditional church setting once, but they don’t know what it means to their lives. It’s a new way of engaging thought and action on an ancient, yet relevant right of passage. And as we’ve discovered, many want to know more.
Some of the debate around “Baptism in the Square” has revolved around whether it is appropriate or not to host such a thing in the public arena. There are no hard and fast ways that Baptism “should” be. Ages, theologies and the practical bits and pieces vary from denomination to denomination. But the nature of Baptism is that it’s an outward public declaration of an inward choice. There was one Biblical instance where a traveler intersected paths with the equivalent of a Minister of Finance in public. The Finance Minister flagged him down and said, “Hey can you explain these scriptures to me because how I am supposed to understand them if no one explains them to me!” So the traveler did just that. The Minister of Finance said, “Oh. OK cool. There’s some water right over there. Can I be baptized right there?” So that’s exactly what they did… dripping wet on the side of the road. It was an outward, in-public expression of something that was going on inwardly.
For 2000 years it’s meant people of all kinds… getting dunked in rivers, tanks, lakes, tubs, oceans, and even inflatable swimming pools. Baptism is not an “outskirts of the faith” thing propagated by those on the fringes of Christianity. In one form or another, it’s an accepted part of the faith, across the spectrum. It’s a spectrum that, according to the most recent census, includes around 60% of Brantford’s population that identifies with some level of traditional or active Christianity. Baptism is also now a part of the Christian faith that now some aren’t able to access because they are not attending a regular church service. There’s nothing wrong with Church services in Church buildings. I highly encourage them! We’ve got them, the number of people in them are growing, and we’re expanding Freedom House to accommodate more.
But Baptism in the Square has facilitated many in a process that they, either rightfully or not, felt disqualified for. We’ve seen shopkeepers close up their store, run across the road to be baptized and return soaking wet. We’ve see families reconcile with God and one another around it. Last year we saw a family drive an hour and a half to Brantford to be baptized together. A documentary crew actually flew to Brantford from South Africa to capture this phenomenon because of its public nature.
It’s an incredible thing to behold, but it’s even more incredible to participate in. You are welcome to do either… or both. It’s simply an on-the-ground-in-Brantford version of a long-standing tradition, consisting of regular folks publicly expressing their faith. Be it new or be it not-so-new. I hope to see you August 16th at 3pm in Harmony Square.