VANCOUVER, B.C. — The chilly spring waters of the Pacific Ocean didn’t deter 29 people from plunging beneath the surface this Easter as a public witness to the truth and power of the gospel.
On April 20, four Mennonite Brethren churches held outdoor baptisms, turning the shores of the Pacific Ocean into holy ground.
The sister congregations — Westside Church, Westside North Shore, Christ City and Reality Vancouver — didn’t plan their events together but were thrilled to discover the baptisms would all happen around the same time.
“It was four generations of one church,” said James Bonney, pastor of Westside North Shore, who baptized one new believer at North Vancouver’s scenic Deep Cove. “These baptisms are the fruit of what happens when you multiply. We’ve got to keep multiplying, keep planting churches.”
Westside celebrated the baptism of 21 people at Stanley Park.
In partnership with the C2C Network, Westside has planted two churches — Reality Vancouver in 2009 and Christ City in fall 2013 — and launched its North Shore campus in 2012.
“There’s no way Westside would have reached those same people,” Pastor Norm Funk said. “It gets me excited for the years ahead. My hope is that in two years, eight churches will be baptizing.”
Reasons to celebrate
Onlookers stopped to watch as baptismal candidates shared their testimonies and waded into the water to get dunked.
“When we hold our baptisms in a public place, people ask questions and see what we’re doing,” Funk said. “It’s a visible picture of the gospel.”
“I’ve even seen strangers take pictures,” said Brett Landry, pastor of Christ City Church, whose congregation met at Kitsilano Beach to celebrate four baptisms.
Pastor Kristian Martens of Reality Vancouver said: “I’ll do baptisms outside in any weather, in any condition, simply for the opportunity it provides to be a living testimony of a gospel-shaped life.”
When members of Christ City arrived at Kitsilano Beach, they were surprised to discover Reality was planning to baptize three people in the same location.
“It was kind of funny,” Landry said. “We were 50 feet apart, cheering each other on.”
Into the neighborhood
For Landry, outdoor baptisms help his congregation realize they’re the church no matter where they go.
“It’s important that the church doesn’t think it’s all about the building or the property,” he said. “The church is about a people gathered.”
In fact, when Christ City renovated its 70-year-old sanctuary, which was donated to them when South Hill Church closed in 2013, they covered over the baptismal tank.
“We are deeply thankful for a beautiful building,” Landry said. “But we love how we can do other stuff to be the church outside our walls. If we never get outside the building, we’re not fully embodying what the church is in our workplaces, schools, homes, playgrounds.
‘This is my son’
For Funk, another element made the day special: He baptized his son, Micah.
“It meant everything to me,” Funk said. “Even though he’s only 11, he has a real, owned faith. But we wanted to be cautious. We wanted it to be meaningful to him — today, tomorrow, 10 years from now. So we talked about baptism. He took his time, thought about it, and then made the decision. He even invited friends.”
For many, there’s no more meaningful or symbolic time to hold a baptismal service than Resurrection Sunday.