Despite being soaked on a chilly day in late October, Olukemi Anazodo, a 21-year-old student from Hofstra University, could barely contain her excitement after her baptism.
“I feel like I’m part of the community," she said. "I’m elated, I’m excited, and I’m really happy. I feel like it’s a new chapter of my life with Jesus.”
She was one of 10 members of Hope Church Long Island in Lynbrook to be baptized at Hope’s very first baptismal service, which took place Oct. 28.
Especially important to the church was the fact that all the congregants being baptized had professed their faith as Christians. There would be no infant baptisms at this service, only adults or young people who had expressed their belief as followers of Jesus, which made it all the more exciting for Pastor Finney Varughese.
“We like to call the baptism service the ‘Super Bowl’ event for the church,” Varughese said. “It is a great celebration and party, and the reason is because baptism is for those who have come to faith.”
That may not quite be what most people picture when they think of the word baptism, but for the members of Hope Church Long Island, it was appropriately described as such.
Following a normal church service that Sunday, the members of Hope Church were invited to stay around for lunch before they drove to the nearby Experience Vineyard Church in Rockville Centre, where the pool for the baptisms was located. The Experience Vineyard Church was another smaller church, although it’s more traditional rectangular shape contrasted sharply with Hope’s semi-circular shaped sanctuary. Everyone being baptized was singled out with a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “I have decided” on the front.
The baptism service began with worship songs and praise from the worship team up front, followed by a brief speech from Dr. Brian Leander, the director of leadership development at Hope Church. There was an air of celebration, and everyone wanted to join in the party. “I think there are still some extra shirts in the back, if anyone else would like to also be baptized today,” Leander told the congregation in his closing words.
No one knew what to expect, though, because the service was the first of its kind for the young church. “I was nervous,” admitted Kim Nell, 45, from Uniondale, as she described her thoughts before her baptism. However, after she went through it, it felt like she had a “new beginning” to life. In a way it was for Nell, after describing herself as being lost and unsure of what to do after the death of her mother. For her, Hope Church brought her in and welcomed her into a new family.
“Being submerged in the water was an odd feeling,” said Anazodo, who was the only student from Hofstra being baptized on the day. Anazodo had grown up in a Christian background in Nigeria, with her mom serving as a deacon in her home church, but had never felt a deep connection with her faith. Despite moving to America five years ago, she did not join the Hope community until last year, when she began to struggle in her life and faith. She credits Hope Church with strengthening her faith and reestablishing her relationship with God.
Hope Church Long Island has a strong connection with many students at Hofstra, besides Anazodo. That's because before it came to Lynbrook, it previously had services at Hofstra University for almost two years. From the class of 2020 on, many out-of-state students at Hofstra call Hope their home church.
Along with the significance of the baptism for each person individually, as a community, it was a sign of growth and maturity for the young church to have people commit to their lives to the faith within the church. “It’s a huge step for this church,” said Shelby Samuel, the head of student ministries at Hope Church Long Island. “These people want to go to the next step of their faith, which takes the church to the next level of their ministry.”
From a small gathering of people in a house on Long Island, to this their very first baptism service, Hope Church has come a long way, and Hofstra student Tyler Martineau said he hopes that it will continue this trajectory. “I hope they continue to grow, continue to reach out to the community of the city here," he said.
So, while the celebrations from the service may be over, the journey for Hope Church Long Island is just getting started.