'Out of our comfort zone': Church holds outdoor service, baptizing in lake

“There are times when Sunday morning church services are too formal,” said the Rev. Scott Dean, pastor of Carnes Chapel First Congregational Methodist Church. “Too often, members arrive, shake a few hands and maybe get a hug before sitting still as they listen to some songs and a sermon before telling everybody goodbye, saying 'See you next Sunday' and leaving.”

That was the genesis of the church’s outdoor service on Sept. 25 at Camp Sumatanga near U.S. Highway 231 in St. Clair County, just outside Gallant and Etowah County.

Along with the morning message, the service featured an old-fashioned “dinner on the ground” and a baptismal service in Camp Sumatanga’s lake.

Dean said he believes church should be enjoyed with time shared in godly community. He said the outdoor service was an example of fellowship and “getting out of our comfort zone.”

He added, “The quality time spent will (here) do more in growing our church and growing us together as a church family ... than everything we’ve done in the past two years that we’ve been there.”

Dean told of being the church’s youth pastor for four years before leaving for a pastorate in Rockledge. He stayed there for a decade before returning to Carnes Chapel, where he found a membership of less than a dozen. In the last two years, however, the membership has doubled several times.

In other news:Southside to hold public meeting Oct. 13 on city's strategic plan

For subscribers:Inside Alabama's coonhound cemetery, a love letter to man's best friend

Although the church has a baptismal pool, some members prefer returning to the way the ordinance began — with the Scriptures’ description of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

Dean said some people desire to be baptized in nature. “The beauty of God’s creation is all around us in the trees, the skies, the water and even the grass if you will simply open your eyes and see it,” he said. “So often, too many have forgotten about the beauty of God’s creation and the importance of God’s children enjoying what He has created. In my opinion, the church has become too formal in that we show up for an hour and depart.”

In preparation for the day’s baptizing, Dean told of that original baptismal service:

“John the Baptist — a strange fellow that wasn't pretty to look upon. He ate locusts and wild honey. When John was out baptizing, a man came and stepped into the water. I've thought a lot about how that water must have felt like when Jesus stepped into it. I'm sure the power of the Lord was there during those early baptisms, but when Jesus stepped into the water, there was a difference and it scared John. He knew Jesus wanted to be baptized, but he said, ‘I'm not going to do it.’ John said, 'I'm not worthy to do it.'

“Jesus said that He must be baptized. The best part of that is when John did baptize Jesus and He came straight out of the water — when He looked up and the heavens opened. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove came down and descended on Jesus. This is the same Spirit that I feel today. That Spirit changes not. It is a privilege for me to get in the water today.”

The four members of Carnes Chapel FCM Church baptized in Camp Sumatanga’s waters were Michelle Cain, Jim “Jimbo” Hodges, Corey Cain and Betty Green.

Asked why he wanted to be baptized in the lake, Hodges said that upon learning of plans for the event, he wanted to be part of it. “I love Jesus and I love this church,” he said. “I accepted Jesus as my Savior at the age of 14 and dedicated my life while I was in the military, and I’ve rededicated my life to the Lord again recently at the church.”

Green was enthusiastic about her time in the baptismal waters: “Jesus is my everything,”

She added, “He's been there with me when I didn't think I could depend on anyone. He was there. I've been through my share of things. He was always there. I don't understand how people can't believe. I see Him in the trees, the skies, everywhere."

Green was first baptized years ago after having a stillbirth. She chose to be baptized again as a fresh start to wash old things away and begin anew.

Afterward, hot dogs and hamburgers, cooked by Dean and Dustin Gibbs, were put on the pavilion tables along with scads of veggies and many other trimmings, plus dozens of homemade desserts, cold drinks and bottled waters. What a feast!

As we were preparing to leave the lake, I overheard one of the men commenting on the meal: “I understand that when we get to heaven, the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb will be catered by the women of Carnes Chapel.”

Two notes: One of the women in attendance told of coming to Sumatanga’s Youth Camps during her childhood, then becoming a camp counselor as a teen and attending many retreats there as a young adult. She vividly recalled her group receiving the Holy Spirit during a December 1976 meeting. She also told of sitting on a lakeside bench one evening until near midnight with someone, “just talking” in freezing temperatures, and becoming “smitten” with him. They later married and were together for 40 years until his death from COVID-19 a year ago.

And a “thank you” to sixth-grader Noah McClendon, a church member, who upon learning we were from The Times, took great care of us throughout the day. He told us he was interested in pursuing a career in journalism.

Carnes Chapel FCM Church is located outside downtown Attalla, near Mountain Top Flea Market on U.S. Highway 278.

This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: Etowah County church holds old-fashioned outdoor service