Beach Baptism

Frederica Baptist Church and a great big baptistery

By J. Gerald Harris, EditorPublished November 5, 2009


Frederica Baptist Church senior pastor Whit Chapman baptizes Sam Wagner at East Beach on St. Simons Island as onlookers watch. “The Lord has given us a very large baptistery called the Atlantic Ocean,” he says. Picture by Bart Wagner

ST. SIMONS ISLAND — “Each One Reach One” is the theme and challenge that pastor Whit Chapman has set before Frederica Baptist Church here – and it is working.

Chapman laid down the gauntlet and exhorted each member of the congregation to reach someone else with the love of Jesus. He explained, “We have seen many of our people accept this challenge. They are praying for lost family and friends and God is opening doors for them to share their faith.”

Chapman came to Frederica in May of 2006 as the minister to students, but in November of 2007 became the senior pastor and professes, “I love it!”

The 34-year-old pastor spent a couple of months preaching on the 2009 church theme and taught the church membership how to share their personal testimony, use the Evangecube and their Bibles to present the plan of salvation, and direct a conversation with anyone to “the greatest story ever told.”

The church offers the membership a weekly visitation ministry so they can get out into the community and share Jesus. Chapman stated, “I am convinced that if a person has understood enough of the gospel to be saved, then they should certainly be able to communicate it to someone else. Every believer has a story to tell and the best news is the good news of the gospel.”

Chapman recounts, “One woman in our church invited a lost neighbor to come to one of our worship services. We subsequently visited the woman in her home and had the privilege of leading her to Christ. Then right in front of the church this new convert asked us to pray for her son. We immediately proceeded to pray for him. We visited him and led him to the Lord.”
Since the church is located on St. Simons Island they like to have public baptismal services in the ocean. The woman mentioned in the preceding paragraph was baptized with eleven other people in the Atlantic Ocean; a few weeks later her born again son was also baptized in the ocean.

“So many churches talk about baptism being a public proclamation of a person’s faith in Jesus,” asserts Chapman, “but most churches do it in front of other believers in a church baptistery. If a person is publically identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, then I see a baptism as a way to preach the gospel. The lost world ought to be the ones to see that take place.

“Our people love the beach baptisms. We gather together on the beach. We pray. We sing.
I share the gospel and the meaning of baptism. I have the candidates publically declare the name of the One in whom they have trusted and then they are taken into the ocean and baptized.

“We have people stop by and watch the baptisms. Some inquire as to what we are doing. Swimmers will even stop to observe what is taking place. Sometimes believers on vacation will see what is taking place and join in with our celebration.

“Living on St. Simons Island, the Lord has given us a very large baptistery called the Atlantic Ocean. There are all kinds of people on the beach that Jesus Christ died for and loves deeply. A beach baptism affords us the opportunity to share Christ with them.”

Frederica Baptist Church has had eight beach baptismal services. Chapman declares, “I would love to do a whole lot more, but our church may need to invest in some wet suits for the winter when the ocean gets a little chilly. I think it would be a worthy investment.”

Chapman grew up in Nashville, where his father worked for the CBS television affiliate for 30 years. He worked in radio as a teenager and started playing the guitar and writing songs. The Lord called him to ministry while he was a student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Upon graduation from the university he went to Southeastern Seminary where he earned his Master of Divinity degree. Whit and his wife, Wendy, have three children, Caroline, 8, who was baptized in the ocean by her dad, Harrison, 4, and Anna Belle, 2.  Chapman came to Frederica from Lake City, Fla., where he served as youth pastor of Hopeful Baptist Church for five years.

Frederica is located in a shopping center, but through the provision of a generous donor the church has been given 13 acres of land, valued at $7 million, on the north end of the island.
“At some point the church will relocate to the new property,” Chapman remarked, “but in the meantime, we just want to keep lifting up the name of Jesus and see people of all ages and backgrounds come to know Him as Lord and Savior.”