Baptism in the Cuyahoga River

What a beautiful day in Ohio! We’ve had intermittent rain, 20 MPH winds, and temperatures in the 40s all day. That would normally be “indoor weather” for us. But today, we spent most of the middle part of the day outside. And it really was beautiful because we got to worship with our H2O Kent community and observe a special baptism in the Cuyahoga River.

Like all H2O baptisms, it was a celebration in the life of our spiritual family. But in this case, it was also a celebration in the life of our little family of five.

Kent State University students will be traveling home at the end of this week. They’ll celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with their families. But instead of coming back to Kent for the last week of classes and the week of Final Exams, like usual, they’ll finish out the semester on their computers. University officials were planning this COVID mitigation strategy from the beginning of the school year, but rising case numbers in our area make this seem wiser than ever. Still, with Thanksgiving rolling straight into remote learning and then the longer Winter Break, we won’t all get to be together again until the middle of January. Two months of separation!

So we were really glad to have the chance to worship together, albeit with all the usual precautions. We prayed, studied the Bible, and even sang a few worship songs. And the weather gave us just enough of an opening that it wasn’t totally miserable.

After worshipping with our region of the church, we gathered at the edge of the Cuyahoga River with other members of the church from other regions. All so we could witness our dear friend Dillon and my beloved son Cor publicly proclaim their faith in Jesus through baptism!

I started with a brief explanation of the biblical basis for baptism. Next, Cor took a turn with the microphone, sharing the story of his spiritual journey. Dillon followed with a beautiful, tear-jerking account of his own spiritual journey. And then we all stripped down to our base layer and waded into the frigid waters of the Cuyahoga River.


“Because of your faith in Jesus, we baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These words have accompanied the observance of baptism for thousands of years. I’ve had the privilege to utter those words in swimming pools, in a makeshift baptismal tub on the Kent State University Esplanade, and in lakes and rivers in at least two countries. Still, it feels extra special to be affirming light and life in such a dark and dreadful year. And it’s particularly gratifying to watch my own children walk in the way of faith.

I pray that those cold waters of the Cuyahoga River would make the experience extra-memorable for Dillon and Cor. Indeed, for everyone who was able to witness the occasion! We joked that it’s pretty typical for those who are getting baptized to end up cold and wet after the experience, but this time we all got to be cold and wet! But I didn’t hear anyone complain.

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