Wade in the Water: The Tradition of Southern African-American Outdoor Baptisms

2 Posted by - June 16, 2017 - LATEST POSTS

Outdoor baptisms were once common in the rivers and deltas of the South. However, many churches are now baptizing people using indoor pools. Long before the existence of indoor pools for baptisms, people would gather on a Sunday morning at a chosen lake or river, pray, sing, and baptize those seeking salvation. It sometimes could be as many as 40 baptized in one day by a  church minister. The tradition of submerging someone in a river to wash away their sins began in Europe.

By the 18th century, the tradition had spread across the South by Baptist ministers. The Christian tradition replicated Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist 2,000 years ago. Slaves on southern plantations embraced the culture and used it as a way to accept Christianity and let go of their African religious beliefs. Baptism was not only for adults, but many children often as young as eight or nine were also baptized as well, some even younger. The baptisms would occur once every summer after a two-week revival.

Parishioners would pray, sing, read scriptures, and decide who was ready for salvation. Sometimes the mothers or deacons of the church would lead those seeking salvation to the front of the church to the mourner’s bench (a bench or seat at the front of the church or room, set apart for mourners or sinners seeking salvation). On the last day of the revival, the church would meet at the lake or riverside for baptisms.

Today, there are not too many churches that keep outdoor baptisms alive. Even the smaller churches have now adopted indoor baptisms.








  • PatsyAnne January 8, 2016 - 10:45 am Reply

    Many rivers are much too polluted for water baptisms.

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