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THE FINAL DUNK: Mars Hill Church Orange County

Well, you’ve made it this far. Or I suppose you have if you’re reading this. For a wide range of people, a single baptism is bizarre enough. Four? Some might find this person rather mentally or spiritually disturbed/confused. I don’t blame you. And I felt a little crazy myself while waiting to be dunked at Mars Hill Church in Orange County around 2012-2014 (I forget when it was).

Let’s remember a couple of things first. When I began inspecting my own thoughts on religion, theology and church, I had baggage. Almost seventeen to eighteen years of it. All packed and loaded up next to me as I caught the midnight train to True Christianity—only to find out such a place doesn’t exist. Of course, we like to think one does but in reality, Its one of those maps where a blue track goes off to the right, another to the left, maybe three down the middle but through different neighborhoods. And, sure, they all go throughout the same city and could technically be one destination, when you get off the train it’ll look a little different.

With that being said, I got off on different stops along my way. But with me the whole time was my baggage. My bitterness from growing up in something I had no understanding of and looking down upon the church because of my own lack of knowledge. As I matured (at least, in my grasp on faith) I realized I needed to give church a chance. Instead of being a child about it, I decided to try to find a church for myself. And thankfully, I did.

It was the first time I put myself out there independently in a church setting. I started attending on Sundays and then joined a community group which met weekly in someone’s home. This experience changed the way I viewed church. It softened my heart and I realized what the value of community was. I actually began to know people and they knew me. We shared real things with each other. I then interned for the executive pastor at this church. Which could be an entire post in itself but suffice it to say my thoughts were changed--in a good way.

This then changed how I viewed most things when it came to church and theology. And, yes, you guessed it. I began to wonder about baptism again. Especially at Mars Hill, where they made baptism quite a beautiful thing. The pool for dunking was really a jacuzzi-sized tub which sat in front of the church. While the band played old repurposed hymns, the pastor would dunk those who desired to be baptized. People would clap and cheer whenever someone was dunked, they’d hug and embrace. It was something being celebrated. Not a box being checked, or a deed being done. And as I grew closer with this church, I found myself thinking this was it. What I had been searching for since the beginning of my wandering and rethinking of baptism.

And so I did, making myself officially, the Man Four Times Baptized. But this time, it was different. I was no longer being led by my parents to be dunked in the ocean. No naked lady on a computer screen guilted me into it. And there wasn’t a cult leader attempting to hijack my theology. It was just me and the water (and a bunch of friends/family that came to celebrate as well). No forgiveness occurring, no getting God to like me and no becoming a better Christian. It was a participation in imagery, imagery which has been passed down for centuries through the church. And there I was, a part of it. Finally plugged into a church and what felt like a family. They all looked on and joined in the celebratory imagery of life, death and resurrection. And it was then that I understood what baptism was. A joining in of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Life (above water, before dunk), death (buried under the waters) and resurrection (the rising out of he waters of death).

SIDE NOTE: Mars Hill Church eventually closed down after the repeated issues with its head pastor in Seattle. This was a shame because I had really grown close with this church family. We’d gone from renting a school auditorium to buying our own building in Huntington Beach. A lot of us spent time preparing the building and making it our own. This could (and should) be an entire post on its own. But unfortunately the church shut down and we tried to stay close but as life goes, we all grew distant. Speaking for myself of course, I know there are others that stayed close. Just another bump in the road on my time in the Christian world.

So, now you know. My embarrassing and rather hilarious journey through four baptisms. All that to realize I didn’t need to continue searching after my first one. But I'm glad I did. My bouncing around gave me multiple experiences and opened me to different ways of thinking. It was more than any amount of research or reading could do. I find myself convinced by the belief that baptism is but imagery (with a slight pull toward infant baptism considering the covenantal aspect of the gospel, but that’s also without my kids being baptized so I guess I only am pulled so far). May you never have to traverse the waters I have in order to understand the simple fact that God is gracious and not waiting for you to get it right. May you, dunked or undunked, find that God is unconditionally bent toward loving humanity how they are. And boy, is that good news for those who need to hear it.

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