Grace Harris is baptized on the street in Long Island City, New York by her grandfather, formed Index Editor J. Gerald Harris. Full photo below. SAVANNAH HUTTO/Special
LONG ISLAND CITY, NEW YORK — Southern Baptists designated Sunday, September 8 as “Baptism Sunday” in an effort to highlight the denomination’s commitment to evangelism and reaching people for Christ. It is believed that thousands of churches participated in the special emphasis by baptizing new converts and celebrating God’s saving grace.
Michael Hill, formerly a college pastor at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Alabama and International Board Missionary, and his wife, Shannon, moved to New York City to start Bridge Community Church and it is obvious that God is smiling upon this new work with His loving favor.
Pastor Hill stated early on, “The church’s desire is to bridge the neighborhood, to connect people in authentic community, and to be a true expression of the church as we faithfully teach the Word and love and serve those around us.”
A decade ago, Long Island City was primarily an industrial neighborhood occupied by empty warehouses. However, a renaissance has taken place that is unparalleled by any other section of New York City. New high-rise residences and business are flooding the area to enhance the transformation. The Waterfront on the East River across from Manhattan is being revitalized to create a flourishing and attractive neighborhood. The demographics show that the area is diverse ethnically and economically, but the spiritual need is great. It is a field that is white unto harvest.
Bridge Community Church is one of Southern Baptists’ newest church plants. The fledgling church start participated in the “Baptism Sunday” and the morning worship service was absolutely inspired and inspiring. The church plant had its first service on Easter Sunday, less than five months ago, with only a handful of people present. On “Baptism Sunday” the attendance exceeded the space provided by the events center where the church is currently meeting. Plans are already underway to find a larger venue for the church gatherings.
The events center is located at the corner of 40th Ave. and 24th Street and the front of the building is made of glass that can be opened onto the sidewalk at the busy intersection. The church used an inflatable jacuzzi for its baptismal pool and it was placed on the sidewalk inches away from the church’s open door. As the jacuzzi was being inflated and filled with water scores of people passed by and looked with great curiosity at what was happening. When the temperature of the water in the makeshift baptistry was first measured it was 67 degrees. Buckets of water were brought in from the events center to warm the water and it was finally heated to a moderately chilly 76 degrees.
Three candidates were baptized – Promise Hill, the pastor’s oldest daughter, was baptized by her father, Michael. Each candidate gave a video testimony prior to their baptism. Promise, an eight-year-old, stated that she had sinned and explained, “No one is perfect, except Jesus Christ, but when you put your faith in Him, He washes away your sins.”
Tony Turner, a young man with an incredibly happy disposition, also baptized by the pastor, stated that he had been an agnostic and had also been influenced by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, but knew there was an emptiness in his heart. He stated, “I knew there had to be something more than what I was experiencing. Now I enjoy reading the Bible and I know that God has me. I feel like I have a new life. Before I had no sense of direction; now I have that [direction] moving forward.”
Grace Harris, granddaughter of former Index editor Gerald Harris and his wife, Martha Jean, went to the area to study at the New York Film Academy, but got connected with New City Church with church planter Patrick Thompson, but then decided to join Michael Hill to help with the newer work in the Queens Borough of NYC. Through the discipleship ministry of the church and the mentoring of a friend, Savannah Hutto, Grace realized that her decision as a child to trust Christ was hollow and that she needed to settle that issue in her life once and for all.
Grace testified, “When I moved here, I came with the intention of using my filming skills to capture different people’s testimonies and publish those testimonies for others to hear. When I heard the word ‘salvation’ or listened to someone talk about their relationship to Christ I would get this pressure in my heart and didn’t understand why I felt that conviction in my spirit. One Sunday I heard Michael say that he wasn’t saved until he was on staff at a church. That was the first time that I realized that you can be that late in the game and appear to be saved, but still not walking with God. But I now know that I am 100 percent saved, because I have given 100 percent of my life to Christ.”
On “Baptism Sunday” Pastor Hill started a new series of messages on the church’s values. It was apparent that his message was delivered out of the overflow of a deep and consistent devotional life. The service ended with an observance of the Lord’s Supper. It was a memorable experience and God was surely glorified.