Congregation Experiences Boom in Baptism

Source: Living Lutheran

Despite having to cope with churching differently, one congregation has found its rhythm. From February 2020 through Labor Day 2021 – a period that encompassed the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – St. Paul Lutheran Church in Eggertsville, New York baptized 38 new congregants who come from a broad cross section of society.

One new congregant is Vishal Ryan Gangaram, a former atheist who later converted to Islam, but throughout the pandemic connected with St. Paul coming to salvation in Jesus Christ.

Gangaram said, “I believe that Jesus saves people. I believe that God saved me. I wanted to officially become a Christian. I believe in the Bible and in the Trinity. I do believe that God is real.”

Describing the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, Gangaram remarked his “inner voice or conscience has become stronger.” 

Pastor Steve Biegner of St. Paul now refers to the 23-year-old Gangaram as a “Jesus freak.”

In addition to engaging new people like Ganagaram, the congregation launched a missions outreach initiative called Fire church geared at engaging first responders. 

According to Biegner, the combination of baptisms and Fire Church initiative have sparked a renewed congregational emphasis on evangelism. He explained, “If we’ve learned one thing at St. Paul’s, it is that we have to listen harder to the first word of the Great Commission: ‘go.’ The church has been ready to do the baptizing, teaching … but we rarely go. Too often we wait for others to come to us.”

Fire Church provided the congregation with an opportunity to go to first responders by meeting them in “their comfort zone, their sanctuary, which is their firehouse,” Biegner added. “[That] is a place they already find community, vulnerability, family—a place they share their gifts and where they give and receive grace. We’ve stopped asking our first responders to come to church and feel uncomfortable, and now we go to their firehouse, barracks and hangar.

“One of [the baptized] was a past fire chief who was just there to help out and watch. He was so moved by the experience that he asked halfway through the baptisms if there was any chance that he could be baptized as well. I tried to get out of God’s way and said, ‘Heck, yes!’ We baptized him with the firehouse chaplain pouring the water.”

To accommodate the baptisms in a safe manner, the church has been conducting outdoor services. To minimize physical contact, Biegner often asked parents to do the pouring of water and laying on of hands.

“We all found this incredibly intimate and beautiful,” he said of the last change. “We’re keeping the tradition.”

Source: Living Lutheran