COLUMBIA — The Rev. Thomas Ragsdell stood waist-deep in a shallow pool Sunday night at Columbia’s Activity and Recreation Center.
He wore a pressed, yellow shirt tucked into a pair of khakis.
Next to him, a 10-year-old boy in his Sunday best was about to be baptized.
Ragsdell asked him if he wanted to follow Jesus.
“Yes,” said the boy, Robert Jackson III, and pinched his nose.
Ragsdell dunked him backward into the water and announced to the assembled members of New Life Community Church: “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
For Robert and five others, Easter was not just a day to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, but also one to welcome Jesus into their hearts.
The church, which does not have a permanent home, had rented the space at the ARC for the traditional baptismal ceremony.
Ragsdell baptized four children and two adults Sunday night. As each person was ceremoniously immersed in the warm water, church members — many in swimsuits — applauded. One little boy called out, “Can I do it?”
The newly baptized climbed out of the pool in their sopping wet clothes. They were wrapped in blue monogrammed towels and given a white rose to commemorate the ritual.
Baptism, from the Greek word “baptizo,” is one of the most sacred and celebrated acts in Christianity.
Total immersion of the believer in water symbolizes the cleansing of the spirit and sin. Submersion represents death and life without faith, and emerging from the water becomes a resurrection.
For Mike Coyne, 38, and his son, Nick, 13, their initiation into a life enhanced by belief in Jesus Christ was a family affair.
“It’s a great experience to do it on Easter” Mike Coyne said. “To do it with my son was a special experience to me.”
Although the Coynes’ family baptism was followed by a brief water fight, father and son said they were eager to begin a new life with their belief in Jesus.
“I want to follow the Lord and live my life that way,” Mike Coyne said.
Ragsdell said he wants to continue the tradition of celebrating this event at the ARC.
“We like doing it in a public place,” he said. “We’re happy at the Activity and Recreation Center.”
His newly organized interdenominational church, which is affiliated with Assemblies of God, urges belief in the three core values of biblical truth, community and service.
“New Lifers” believe in enriching the community and worshipping together to celebrate a spiritual journey with Christ.
While the New Life Community Church had operated out of the homes of its parishioners, weekly Sunday services moved to the ARC earlier this year..
“We have about 30 to 50 people who come on a regular basis,” Ragsdell said.
As adults chatted with each other by the pool, and children eagerly anticipated a celebratory pizza party, the event was a way for the New Lifers to unite as a community and celebrate their spiritual journey.
“We celebrate with each person wherever they are in their journey,” Ragsdell said. “Celebrating Jesus’ resurrection is significant.”