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Hundreds gather in Huntington Beach to be baptized with cold dunk in the ocean

The thought of walking into a cold church seems intimidating to Stefan Marchand. But the beach? Not so much.

So, on a recent Friday, he joined hundreds of Christians in a revival worship and baptism in Huntington Beach, right by lifeguard tower 20. It was about 6 in the evening when Marchand, an actor, took a dunk in the cold water. He was enthralled by the “magical lighting” and sheer intensity of the experience, he said.

“When I act, everything feels more intensified,” he said. “It was the same feeling I had when I came out of the water, except it was that times 100. It was the most incredible feeling.”

Worship during pandemic

For the past three Fridays, starting on July 3, Costa Mesa couple Jessi and Parker Green have organized the events, which are part revival, part worship and part baptisms, all rolled into one. They draw hundreds to the beach even though Orange County is experiencing a surge in coronavirus infections. Just this week, the county overtook Riverside County for the second largest number of coronavirus cases in California.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered several types of businesses and houses of worship to close again because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. But the state orders do not preclude churches from having outdoor services as long as they take precautions, such as social distancing and wearing masks. The closure orders have been a point of contention for some faith leaders, who believe it is imperative for them to remain open to fulfill their “essential” services to congregants. Some congregations have opted for drive-in services and others have continued to operate in violation of state orders.



Following ‘a vision’

The Greens, who call these beach revivals Saturate OC, said the timing of the events wasn’t planned. The couple moved from New York City to Orange County in 2016, after Jessi Green said she had a vision of doing baptisms in the waves at Huntington Beach. She was employed with a social media marketing agency and her husband was a pastor at a local church.

When the couple arrived in Orange County, they started a “microchurch” movement called Salt Churches, which are small groups that meet to worship in people’s homes, parks or beaches.

“We’ve taken the last year to prepare for this event,” she said. “We had no idea we would do it in the middle of a pandemic when most churches are closed. But that’s just the way it turned out.”

In May, they decided to hold the first worship on July 3, a holiday, followed by three more each Friday in July. Newsom had ordered all beaches closed for the holiday weekend, but the city of Huntington Beach decided to keep its beaches open until July 3, which allowed the Greens’ event to proceed as planned.

“I was worried if anyone would even come,” Jessi Green said. “But, about 300 people showed up and it was amazing.”

In the following two weeks, hundreds more showed up as the word got out on social media.

Just baptized, Jane Marczewski, right, receives a hug as hundreds of worshipers participate in a Christian religious service with baptisms. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

Healing and renewal

Jane Marczewski of Long Beach said she heard about it on Instagram. Marczewski recently moved to Southern California from Nashville after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was given three to six months to live.

“My husband left me shortly after that and I was devastated,” she said.

Marczewski says she “miraculously” became cancer-free just four months after going through alternative treatments combined with a mild dose of chemotherapy.

“I came to the revival because I need to let go of my traumatic past and begin my life as a new person,” she said. “When I stepped into the waves, I felt like I was washing off my past. I left all that pain in the water and came back as a new person.”

Faith in prayer

The Greens said they were not too concerned about the coronavirus spreading through their events because they are held outdoors, although they urge all attendees to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“So far, we haven’t heard of anyone who became ill because of coming to our worship,” Jessi Green said. “And that’s a good thing.”

Her husband, Parker, said they welcome anyone who is comfortable being there.

People lay hands on Revivalists Jessi, left, and Parker Green as over 500 worshipers participate in a Christian religious service with baptisms at lifeguard station 20 Friday, July 17, 2020 in Huntington Beach. The ritual is performed every Friday in July. The event is hosted by Saturate OC, a group of over 60 churches from California and beyond.(Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

“If you’re nervous, wear a mask, keep your distance,” he said. “I don’t feel like there is an overbearing risk. We’re just trying to pray, listen and be open.”

Both Marczewski and Marchand said they were not concerned about contracting the virus.

“I guess I should’ve been concerned,” Marczewski said. “But I thought if I can beat terminal cancer, I can survive COVID-19. It was just more important for me to have this experience.”

Large gatherings still worrisome

But these types of events, where a large number of people congregate in one place, still pose significant risks, said Clayton Chau, director and acting health officer at the county’s health care agency.

“The longer the community continues to practice risky behaviors causing widespread community transmission, the longer our county will remain on the state’s monitoring list,” he said. “Being on this list will prolong the ‘shutdown’ stage, causing a negative economic effect for the entire county, on top of putting vulnerable citizens at high risk.”

While the state’s rules do allow worship outdoors, any large gathering outdoors — be it church or protests — can be risky, Chau said.

“That’s especially true if people are hugging or having physical contact and not wearing masks,” he said. “When you have 1,000 people in one place, that’s a big concern.”

The Greens list several church partners that have lent their support for the beach events, including Harvest Christian Fellowship, Rockharbor and Father’s House OC. They initially had planned to end these worships by July 24. But now, after seeing the popularity of the beach baptisms, they’ve extended them to Aug. 7.

Parker Green said he and his wife believe in their purpose — to help people find their purpose and meaning in life.

“You have all these churches trying to get people to come to them,” he said. “We are going to where the people are. We really want to see believers activated, not just passively listening to a sermon in church.”

Source: Orange County Register

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