Horse trough baptisms: Different spaces mean churches get creative

Rachel Bocobo remembers being baptized twice in traditional baptisteries at the front of a sanctuary, people looking up at her from the pews. Those times, once as a child and later an adult, she chose to be baptized because she was “supposed to,” she said.

The third time, her baptism was because she felt the Lord was leading her to go deeper in their relationship.

So when she was immersed in the water, representing a burial with Christ and rising to a new life, Bocobo didn’t think twice about being dunked in a horse trough.

“In that moment you feel so overwhelmed by the love of Christ and just that all consuming fire,” Bocobo said. “I just came out feeling like a completely different person.”

Bocobo is hardly the only person to be baptized in a horse trough.

As church plants move between meeting places and nontraditional churches find homes in movie theaters and storefronts, some are coming up with creative ways to deal with a lack of a built-in baptistery.

Doing so can be creative and cost-efficient while having a unique impact, said several area pastors.

Bocobo attends The Source Wichita, where the Rev. Jason Villanueva, the church’s pastor, remembers church members boiling large pots of water throughout a service just to fill up the horse trough with warm water during a winter baptism.

The church, formerly called Aviator North Wichita, used to meet in the Evergreen Park Recreation Center.

In addition to their horse trough baptisms, they held a baptism in the recreation center’s swimming pool, inviting the neighborhood to enjoy hamburgers and hotdogs while witnessing the open-air baptisms.

“There were people there who got to see that happen, people who wouldn’t normally see someone take a religious step of faith,” Villanueva said.

The church just moved into a new space on Central and Market and, for the first time in seven years, had a baptism in a traditional baptistery – a lot easier than having to pull out a hose and fill up the tank, Villanueva said.

Flexibility and fun

For GracePoint Church, using two big Rubbermaid containers from Tractor Supply means the freedom to have baptisms downtown, at the park and “on home plate” on a baseball field.

“It makes it more flexible so we can have some fun,” said the Rev. Terry Johnson, executive pastor. “It seems like when you’re a portable church or a church that doesn’t have a traditional baptismal, you have to find whatever you can.”

Once a portable church, GracePoint now meets at the former Cinemas West movie theater. When the weather is nice, baptisms might be outside. Sometimes the church takes its Rubbermaid baptisteries downtown to offer the service to people who are homeless.

It’s part of the “Great Commission,” when Jesus tells his disciples to go out into the world and preach the gospel, Johnson said. This way, they can take what they need for baptism with them.

When GracePoint renovated the movie theater, keeping the Rubbermaid baptisteries made more financial sense than building and maintaining a built-in baptistery.

The horse trough also is the most inexpensive and portable method of baptism at Wheatland Mission, which rents space on Saturday night from First Salem Church.

The Rev. Paul Hill, pastor at Wheatland, has baptized people in swimming pools but prefers a dedicated horse trough since pools are also for recreation.

“It doesn’t seem as sacred as a horse trough – but what a strange sentence that is,” Hill said with a laugh. “I think church plants, smaller churches or churches that don’t have a history of using a full baptismal where a person’s completely immersed, they’re probably using tanks or things like this just for the practicality of it. Not every church is equipped with a baptistery.”

Cowboy Church

For others, using something like a water trough actually fits the culture of the church.

Prairie Trail Cowboy Church meets in a pole barn with cement floors, a wood back to the stage and chicken wire holding up insulation in the ceilings.

You can bring your dog to church, and if you get baptized, it’ll also be in a water trough. A traditional baptistery wouldn’t quite fit in.

The church has baptized more than 400 people in its trough, estimates the Rev. Chris Bray, pastor.

With the water trough, people can gather around in a circle, making the baptism “more personal” than ever before, Bray said.

This summer, Prairie Trail will try out another sort of baptism, one people have asked for throughout the years. Church members will join each other for a barbecue picnic, then a baptism in the lake.

How will a lake baptism be different from one in a horse trough or a church baptistery? Bray isn’t sure – it’ll be his first one.