A lead pastor for a megachurch with various locations in Maryland revealed in an interview how the pandemic pushed him to do virtual baptisms, which he never thought he could do before.
Religion News reported that First Baptist Church of Glenarden International Senior Pastor John Jenkins, Sr. officiated their first virtual baptism in February 2021 to the daughter of a 20-year-congregant who has moved to Georgia. First Baptist Church of Glenarden International, which has worship and ministry centers in Upper Marlboro and Landover, Maryland, performed a total of 91 other virtual baptisms since then. The church intends to continue the practice despite plans of holding in-person baptisms beginning Tuesday, April 19.
"We're getting people baptized and being obedient to Christ all over the world. This pandemic has pushed me to understand that there are things that I never thought we could do that we can do," Jenkins told Religion News.
Jenkins, who began preaching at the age of 15, explained that their virtual baptisms will be offered continuously to congregants of their online campus. The church recently added "International" to its name since they now have campus members online from around the globe. Their first international campus member to be baptized, Alicia Cameron, also took place in early 2021. Cameron is from Arima, Trinidad and used her shower for the ritual.
Cameron, an educational institution's senior manager, recounted that she was surprised that virtual baptisms are possible. The 45-year-old's discovery of First Baptist Glenarden conducting such baptisms made her feel that God was opening the pathway for her to become a Christian. Cameron shared that Easter, the season where baptisms often take place, has become more significant to her. She said she will use the season of Easter to really reflect on what Christ did for her to become a child of God.
Virtual baptisms are often done with the baptismal candidate near a bathtub or pool assisted by someone during the ritual. Another person is also needed to hold the camera while the officiant on the other side of the screen declares the public act of faith that the baptism is done "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
Accordingly, this expansion of the traditional rite online did not start during the pandemic and is not isolated to the Maryland megachurch. Religion News cited online videos from the 2000s where an officiant was in Florida and the baptismal candidate was in Georgia. Another video showed a pastor performing a baptism to a candidate in an Alabama swimming pool while he was in a conference in Indiana.
Dallas Theological Seminary Dean of Enrollment and Distance Education John Charles Dickey Dyer pointed out in an April 18, 2020 blog post that variances in the understanding of the rite of baptism may hinder its practice online. Dyer pointed out certain guidelines that need to be followed so that the practice will be within the bounds of traditional baptism. These guidelines are to "be baptized by another Christian," to use the "Trinitarian formula," and to use "physical water," which is "necessary."
"Beyond these three elements, there has been quite a bit of flexibility in the practice of baptism in the church. I might also recommend that online baptisms be an extension of a local church with existing relationships so that the baptismal ritual is both a spiritual experience and a public declaration of faith. And yet, even that is not a necessity for a new believer, just as it was not for the Ethiopian eunuch," he said.
On the other hand, First Baptist Glenarden International Campus Minister Rev. Keshia Dixon contradicted the need for the person assisting in the virtual baptism to be a baptized Christian. Dixon explained that the power of the profession of faith suffices for the Holy Spirit to work at the moment. She emphasized that what the rite symbolizes and the presence of the Holy Spirit is the only thing important at that moment.