Early Churches Had Icy Water Baptisms*
The small white church that stands on the hill overlooking
Bethel Seminary was once known as Scandia Baptist Church and was originally
located in the village of Waconia, west of Minneapolis.
It had a huge baptistry which was Lake Waconia, and it was used year-round. The first baptismal service was held on February 17, 1856. The baptistry was hewn out of ice three feet thick.
The baptizing pastor was Fredrick Olaus Nilsson, who was the first preacher of the Baptist faith in Sweden (1848) and had been banished from Sweden. He later came to America and preached to the Swedes here.
On that first baptismal service in Lake Waconia, Pastor Nilsson baptized Magnus and Christin Peterson.
In November 1958, Nilsson's diary mentions several chilly baptisms. Two sisters were baptized in a creek. A day or two later he baptized another woman in a lake.
Pastor Nilsson's diary entry from Easter Sunday, 1859, explains how he assisted a German Baptist pastor. The announced baptismal service had attracted a crowd of about 400 hecklers who angrily disputed the pastor's teaching about believers' immersion. Pastor Nilsson finally got the crowd quieted down. The baptism then took place in the lake where an opening had been cut in the ice. The crowd looked on attentively and in silence.
To our pioneer forebears, believers' immersion was a compulsory obedience to the Word of God. They did not wait for it to be warm, comfortable, and convenient.
*This account was copied from the Trail Markers, publication of the Baptist General Conference History Center who got their information from the books, 100 years of Gospel Work by Paul S. Meyer, and A Centenary History by Adolf Olson.
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