Event highlighted a new trend in a region where only pastors performed baptisms
For church elder Michael Vernal and the members of the Regent Street Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kingston, Jamaica, March 11, 2017, will long be remembered as a very special day in the life of their local church. It was the first time that Vernal ever baptized anyone, and his first candidate was his mother, with whom he had shared the Word of God for more than 30 years.
“Today has been a tremendous day for me,” said Vernal in an interview after baptizing his mother at the Regent Street church. “The opportunity that I had to do the baptism was a tremendous, unspeakable joy,” added Vernal, who has been the head elder of the church for more than 15 years.
Being an elder in the Adventist Church for so many years, Vernal has attended numerous baptismal services, assisted the pastor in the Communion services and led out in evangelistic campaigns and outreach events. His vast experience, however, had never included baptizing someone, church leaders said.
Vernal’s mother was just as happy as her son to be part of the historic baptism. “I am feeling happy; I am feeling light. This was a day that I longed for,” said Citrian Smith, who had been previously baptized in another denomination, before becoming convinced of the importance of observing the seventh-day Sabbath according to the teachings of the Bible. “Now I know that the seventh day is the day on which you are to worship God because God rested on the seventh day from all His labors,” she added.
After visiting several churches along the years, Smith said she asked God to show her the right church. “I am glad that I have become a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and with the strength and faith of the Lord, I know I will go on to the end,” Smith said.
That Vernal was able to baptize his mother will be one of those memories that will be difficult to erase, he said. Vernal and wife, Dr. Lorraine Vernal—who currently serves the church in Jamaica as Women’s Ministries and Children and Adolescents’ Ministries—have given outstanding service at the Regent Street church and to the Adventist Church in East Jamaica.
“I am feeling happy; I am feeling light. This was a day that I longed for.”
Elder Vernal also had the opportunity of baptizing a husband and wife couple. He thanked church leadership at the Inter-American Division for the “Lord Transform Me” initiative, which allows elders to baptize persons they had worked with on the special baptism day. According to the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, a local church elder can baptize if proper permission is obtained from the Church organization.
“Today I am elated, and I know the church will be better for these initiatives of having local elders participating in this type of service. I am happy, and I know heaven is rejoicing; my mom is happy, and I know that by the grace of God she will remain faithful to him,’’ Vernal said.
While March 11, 2017, was not the first time that elders in East Jamaica were allowed to baptize candidates with whom they had studied, the previous months marked the first time so many elders embraced the challenge to prepare someone for baptism in a special day of celebration across Jamaica and the Inter-American Division. According to local church leaders, of the 105 persons baptized on that special Sabbath, 85 were baptized by elders in the East Jamaica Conference. Fifty-five elders from 18 of the 31 pastoral districts across the conference took part in the baptismal event.
Pastor Eric Nathan, president of the church in East Jamaica was delighted for what had transpired. Nathan said he believes the event foreshadowed a time when the church would be growing at such a rapid rate that enough pastors would not be available to handle the numbers. “I am excited that we are getting a small glimpse of what Total Membership Involvement is all about,” he said, referring to a program of the world church to get every member involved in mission.
After going from church to church and listening to elders speak of the joys of baptizing people they had worked with, Nathan said he cannot but rejoice for what is happening. “And this seems to be opening the door for greater things,” he said.