Classroom baptistery helps students on mechanics & meaning of immersion

NEW ORLEANS (BP)--Jerry Barlow says the focus of baptism should not be doing it smoothly, but doing it spiritually. With a new classroom baptistery, he hopes to get students through the particulars of baptism and into its meaning.

Barlow, associate professor of preaching and pastoral work at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, recently led his pastoral ministries class in baptism training in the school's newly renovated Bunyan classroom building.

With the facility's recent renovation came added classroom features, including a classroom with a full-size baptistery, where administrators envision giving students practical training in church ordinances, along with other "smart rooms" equipped with the latest computer technology.

"Baptism was something I had to learn by trial and error," said Barlow. "We want to give students confidence in the particulars of baptism so they'll be able to focus on its meaning.

"It's a very helpful graphic aid," he added. "When we talk about the biblical meaning of baptism -- immersion as described in Romans 6 -- they can really visualize it."

The new baptistery not only helps visualize the meaning, but also helps in getting through the difficult circumstances that can accompany a baptism. Barlow, also an experienced pastor with several years of church leadership behind him, said he has experienced several "special situations" in baptism. He shared those situations with students, some of whom discovered quickly how physically difficult the ordinance can be.

One student only partially immersed his candidate [during the class]," he said. "Many ministers have experienced that, and it can really throw you. If the water is extremely cold, and the candidate is shivering, how do you handle that? How do you baptize someone with a severe disability? With the baptistery, I can demonstrate a lot that has happened."

The class not only focuses on the actual practice of the baptism ordinance, but also on duties such as counseling the candidate before baptism, working with a baptism committee, being aware of the new models of baptisteries, many of which don't require the pastor to enter the water.

Students say the class has been a great help. Most of the students, many of whom hope to become pastors in the local church, have never baptized anyone. The hands-on training, they said, will come in handy in their ministries.

"I didn't get the guy under the water the first time," said Marc Daniels, a master of divinity student. "It was good to have something mess up now in class than to mess up like that in my first church."

"I was really nervous," said Jason Sampler, also an M.Div. student. "The guy I was baptizing was about 8 inches taller than I was. It was neat to be able to practice."

Amy Labella, a master of Christian education student, served as the baptism candidate through the actual service, and while she said she learned a lot about how to properly baptize a person, for her, the meaning went much deeper.

"I was just standing there in the water while Dr. Barlow was talking about the meaning of baptism," she recounted. "I was just holding on to his wrist as he was talking about going down into the water and being raised again just as Jesus was.

"I was standing there remembering my own baptism as a fifth-grade student, and it never hit me then just how amazing salvation is. Jesus died for all the sins I've committed and all the sins I'll ever commit."

She said Barlow commented on how cooperative a candidate she was being, even though she was baptized several times in class.

"I didn't mind at all," she said.


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CLASSROOM BAPTISTERY.

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