Once celebrated in spirituals and blues songs, and as common as Sunday school, baptism in rivers and deltas across the southern U.S. are rapidly disappearing, in the face of indoor pools, mega-churches and modernization. Only a handful of rural churches keep it alive. The tradition of submerging someone in a river to wash away their sins began in Europe, came to America in the 18th century and spread across the South by Baptist ministers, replicating Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. But beginning in the 1950s, churches modernized to draw more parishioners and began constructing indoor pools for baptisms, says Shayne Lee, a sociologist at Tulane university. Later, as thousand-seat mega-churches began replacing smaller, rural churches, outdoor baptisms further dwindled, he says. “We now have a whole generation of churchgoers who grew up in mega-churches, where indoor baptisms are the norm. Outdoor baptisms just don’t resonate anymore.”
Take me to the water
Outdoor baptisms dwindling away in U.S.