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9 baptized like 'Jesus did in the Bible'

More than 100 members of Crystal Beach Community Church lined the gulf shore to bear witness.

Published October 27, 2003

CRYSTAL BEACH - In her 61 years, it was the first time Sue Glass wore a bathing suit to church.

Glass has been a member of Crystal Beach Community Church for the past 10 years. Recently the congregation decided to have a full-immersion baptism ceremony in the Gulf of Mexico, which borders the church property.

Although she was baptized as a child, Glass had been thinking about doing it again as an adult, as a way to "bring her closer to the Lord." When the church announced the gulf baptism, Glass knew it was time to take the plunge.

"I was eager to do it the way Jesus did in the Bible," she said.

At the end of Sunday's service, the double doors swung open and light streamed though the beveled glass. More than 100 congregants gathered along the shoreline. It was an ideal day for the ceremony, with a water temperature of 80 degrees, gentle tropical breeze and plenty of sunshine.

Even pausing temporarily while a Jeep Grand Cherokee pulling two water scooters moved out of the path to the water didn't mar the postcard-perfect setting.

As the congregants sang Kumbaya, nine people slowly followed pastor James Bradley into waist-deep water.

Martha Stuart, 59, was the first member to be gently dipped in the gulf as Bradley prayed. Stuart has been going to Crystal Beach Community Church for four years.

"I thought this was a beautiful idea," she said.

As the remaining participants repeated the ritual one by one, proud family members stood on the shore, some trying to capture the event with cameras.

Steve Walker watched his daughter Sarah, 13, get baptized.

"She was excited, I think," he said. "She kept reminding me this morning it was time to leave for church."

Sarah is an eighth-grader at Palm Harbor Middle School. Also being baptized was her good friend, Kailah Burdick, also 13.

Kailah has attended Crystal Beach Community Church since she was 5. Her mother, Kim Eschenfelder, was also participating in the ceremony.

"I think this is probably a bigger deal for my parents than for me," Kailah said.

Eschenfelder is the church secretary, and she and her husband, Mike, are active with the church youth group. Eschenfelder was baptized as an infant, "but I wanted to reaffirm my faith as an adult," she said. "This is really wonderful for me and my daughter."

As Sue Glass made her way back to shore, the congregants were singing Amazing Grace. Her husband of 42 years, Bob, watched.

"This is very special for Sue," he said. "Normally she doesn't even like going in the water, unless it's a swimming pool."

Glass dried her face with a small towel.

"This is such a friendly, very loving, community," she said. "Good feelings just flow from these people."

Bradley has been in pastoral service for 38 years and performed hundreds of baptisms, but this was his first in the gulf.

"It was the parishioners themselves that came up with the idea," he said. "It hasn't been done here in at least 10 years. We had a very enthusiastic response."

Crystal Beach Community Church is a nondenominational Christian church tucked away at the end of Crystal Beach Avenue. It is across the street from Live Oak Park.

The congregation is approximately 300 people, Bradley said, "but the doors are always open for new members."

[Last modified October 27, 2003, 02:04:28]

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