The bond of baptism
Jehovah’s Witnesses share faith at stadium
By SUSAN ORR
About 25 new members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were baptized Saturday afternoon at Roberts Stadium. Candidates lined up to be immersed one-by-one while attendants with mops stood nearby to clean up any spills. The baptismal ceremony was part of the annual Jehovah’s Witness district convention that drew more than 5,000 people from all over the region.
Jessica Burke, 17, of Louisville, Ky., gets prepared to be baptized by Elder Tom Hadar during the convention.
When a Jehovah’s Witnesses co-worker approached Matthew Workman six years ago to talk about spiritual matters, Workman was eager to talk about the Bible but had no interest in becoming a Witness.
“At first, I was convinced I would never be,” said Workman, who lives in Louisville, Ky.
But after several years of study, Workman began to think differently, and Saturday he was among dozens of believers baptized during the Jehovah’s Witnesses district convention at Roberts Stadium.
The three-day event, which ends today, is drawing Jehovah’s Witnesses from Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. An identical convention is slated for Friday through July 9 at Roberts Stadium.
Saturday’s official attendance figure was 5,384.
Most of the convention focuses on lectures and teachings, but many believers said they consider the baptisms to be the highlight of the event.
Jehovah’s Witnesses require new believers to be baptized by immersion, even if they have been baptized previously in another faith. There is no minimum age requirement, although the believer must be old enough to understand the faith and make his or her own decision about the matter.
About 25 recent converts were baptized Saturday.
Before the baptism, Elder Robert Lynch of South Bloomington, Ind., delivered a message meant for the baptismal candidates who sat on chairs set up directly in front of the stage.
“This is the most important day in your lives,” Lynch told the group.
“This all brings us intense joy, brothers and sisters, and we want you to know that.”
Afterward, the candidates changed into bathing suits and T-shirts, then filed back out to the floor of Roberts Stadium. One by one, they stepped into a small pool to be baptized.
During the baptisms, a small group of supporters gathered around the baptismal pool, watching and taking photographs while the rest of the crowd applauded from their seats in the stands.
Romona Thompson of Carbondale, Ill., one of those gathered up close, said she was overcome with emotion to see new believers officially join the faith.
“What can I say? It’s just the most beautiful thing to see these people dedicate themselves to Jehovah God,” Thompson said.
“Even if you don’t know who they are, you have a bond with them.”
Workman said he felt that spirit during his baptism.
“It makes you feel good that no matter what can happen in this world, you’ve got the unity of your brothers and your sisters,” he said.
Most Jehovah’s Witnesses, even those who joined the faith years ago, remember the date of their baptism because the experience was so important to them. Ira Parrish, an elder at Evansville’s Southeast Congregation, said baptism “is like no other day” in a Jehovah’s Witness’ life. Parrish was baptized Dec. 29, 1974, at French Lick Ind.
“You gotta consider – when you change your life and start serving God, you remember that,” he said.