On any given Sunday in Appalachia, a request to be baptized can be made. To mountain folk, this was an outward profession of an inward or personal faith in Jesus Christ. The water doesn’t wash away sins but serves as a testament to the world that the person has become a new creature in Christ. We go down into the water and come back up signifying the burial and resurrection of the Savior. One old mountain preacher described someone as not being born again but baptized as “going down a dry sinner and coming up a wet one.” Jesus himself didn’t baptize anyone, but his disciples did. John baptized Jesus at his request but John felt unworthy to do so.
Unlike today, baptisms in the early days were often in high attendance. People stood all over the river or creek banks watching as numerous men, women, and children were dunked under. Songs from the old, red, Church Hymnal were sung, such as “Are You Washed in the Blood” or “Amazing Grace” as the new convert entered and exited the chilly water. Everyone gathered around to shake hands with and/or hug the new convert immediately after they came out of the water. Songs would continue to be sang until dismissal.
Mountain folk were known to hold baptizings in the dead of winter. Sometimes, the ice would have to be busted up by an axe when the water had frozen solid over the top. It was unheard of for anyone to become sick after being dunked in the cold temperatures. Mountain people had great faith that if the Lord could save their soul, he could also keep them from getting sick. The churches of Appalachia were not equipped with an indoor baptismal like many are today.
Everyone was asked to gather at the river or creek at a certain time for a baptizing, which was usually right after church services.
My husband, Shannon, was baptized at the age of nine, which would have been in December of 1981 (see photo). This was in the dead of winter. He remembers the event like it was just yesterday. He talks about how it was the best day of his life as a nine year old, blonde hair, blue eyed boy. Preacher Tobby Greene (pastor at that time), performed the baptism as my husband’s mother, grandmothers, and others stood nearby on the bridge or surrounding the creek bank. Of course, the critters of the creek were there, too. At times, the mountain people witnessed snakes, turtles, crawdads, or other creatures in the water. This did not keep them from doing an old-time mountain baptizing.