“Fewer Baptisms, Please” – The Impact of a New Building Design?

While the Appleton, Wisconsin Stake is mighty proud of its new Stake Center where the our new Neenah Ward meets, there have been a few surprises about this modern, spacious building that make me miss the old Appleton building to the north where my family used to meet. The new building in Neenah, for one thing, has the most amazing design for the baptistery. The baptismal font is next to the Relief Society room where doors can be opened to allow people to observe baptisms. Or perhaps a baptism – the layout of the font is going to discourage the use of the plural form.

In the new-fangled layout, there is only one way for a person in the Relief Society room to get to the font to be baptized. Instead of simply opening a door in the room that leads to the font, one has to leave the room, walk down the hall, turn a corner, and enter a men’s or woman’s bathroom. To get to the door that leads to the font from the bathroom of choice, one must open the door to a stall area where a bench is located. That’s OK, one can lock the stall to keep others out, but after the person is baptized, they will need that stall area to themselves to change into dry clothes. This can take several minutes. Meanwhile, others of the same gender who wish to be baptized will have to wait outside the stall or wait inside the font area with no place to go. And if there are people in the font area, the person changing is unable to lock the door to the font from the bathroom side, creating an uncomfortable situation. We can provide some added privacy by adding a curtain or something, but it sure seems to discourage having multiple baptisms on the same day. And yes, we can just wait until everybody has been baptized, and then let the baptizer escape, and then let the wet converts wait in line to use the stall area that has the bench for changing. Certainly far less efficient than the much older building in Appleton, where two people can be changing without blocking the flow of traffic in and out of the font, and where there is access to the font area directly from the Relief Society room. Ah, the old golden days of Church architecture!

In addition to the frustrating layout, the water system poses another problem, at least from the perspective of a Ward Mission Leader. The disincentive? Three or more hours required to fill the font. That’s according to the specs we were given, and after my test last night, I think it will take at least three hours. (Update: it only took a couple minutes over 2 hours since the new font is smaller than the Appleton font, and since I changed a setting on a strange “circuit setter” device that was restricting hot water flow for some reason – two hours is just fine, frankly.) The baptismal font water flow rate for this fancy new building may be a little less than a typical shower faucet in a US home. We had about twice the flow rate in the old Appleton building. The water heater couldn’t quite keep up, so it took 90 minutes to fill a font to keep the water comfortable warm with a reduced flow (or periods of high flow followed by rests to let the heater reheat). Not sure why it has to be so slow here. Fortunately, I’m the only one who needs to suffer. Well, some of the early Saints had to chisel there way into ice water to be baptized, so my woes are minor.

(Update: One more oddity is the lack of an efficient way to clean the font after use. Our old building had a hose with a spray nozzle that could be connected to the faucet to spray down the font to clean it, but the faucet here does not permit coupling to a hose. There’s another suggestion for the folks designing buildings.) As nice as this building is, I’m surprised that a lovely, high-end, spacious new building would have both a layout and a water system that does not reflect decades of experience in the practical details of baptizing people. In fact, the layout almost suggests that baptisms should be rare and non-plural events. We intend to make it otherwise.

Wish me luck in filling the font for our 9 AM baptism this Saturday! And no, I’m not whining – just rejoicing in the exciting new learning and waiting experiences ahead.

Of course, this may be a custom oddity of our building, so I hope it’s not a standard flaw being implemented in many units. But if you are getting a new building, my advice is to have your leaders carefully look over the blueprints and insist on a baptistery that allows multiple people to be baptized conveniently, and insist on hefty hydraulics to allow warm water to fill the font quickly, and to allow a good way of cleaning the font after each use.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

8 thoughts on ““Fewer Baptisms, Please” – The Impact of a New Building Design?

  1. Jeff, in our chapel, a small footprint urban (rectangular as opposed to hexagonal) chapel, the kitchen has a water heater separate from the heater that the bathrooms/font uses.

    It’s cumbersome, but if you need to fill faster than 3 hours, one can use pitchers and large pots to carry hot water from the kitchen to the font.

    We’ve even used the stove to boil water for baptism emergencies where the font wasn’t filled soon enough, or was filled too soon, or the font spigot was opened faster than the water heater could keep up.

    One piece of advice you want to make sure gets handed down to new ward mission leaders and new missionaries is DO NOT FILL THE FONT TOO FAST, because as you noted, the bathroom/font water heater can’t keep up if water passes through it too quickly.

    That knowledge often doesn’t get passed on, and a convert and missionary can get an icy experience when the font is filled too fast.

    PS: when the day comes when Appleton baptizes people by the hundreds, I guess you could always rent out the YMCA pool and locker rooms.

  2. One other interesting deal is the fact that you can’t fill the font while there is a meeting in the RS room due to the faucet being so high and the sound of the water flowing into the font…not to mention the inability to pull the drain plug without a special hand crafted pole.

  3. Sparky,
    After the baptism, can the baptizer pull the drain plug with his bare toes or reach down and do it by hand?

    (Note to previous comment: very hot or boiling water from the kitchen is not needed to make up for lack of water volume in the font, but to make up for the cold water in the font when it is filled too fast.)

  4. Doesn’t the water cool off in the font during the 3-hour filling process?

    If I had a tub of hot water, and came back three hours later to take a bath, it would be quite cold.

  5. There is some loss, but the ratio of volume to surface area is higher in a large font than in a tub, so there is relatively less conductive and evaporative heat transfer to chill the entire mass.

  6. I don’t think that is a new problem. Most of the buildings I baptized on my mission were problematic as far as filling the font. The best had instructions typewritten in the font area, though some could be funny (Turn the valve open all the way on hot, turn around touch your toes, turn it halfway back and then dance the hokey pokey before closing the thingamig.)

    Perhaps the church should use the new technologies available with instant water heaters. They have a higher purchase price and can be expensive to run – but you get instant hot water that lasts and you don’t pay to heat a container of water when you don’t need it.

    The worst baptism font I had was one that had yellow water (not just slightly – but almost lemonade looking) and had a slow leak that made it noisy in an awkward sort of way.

  7. How strange – one of my sons just commented this week on the new Tractor Supply Company store that opened out here recently, incredulous that there could be a whole store on that topic – and a very large one, perhaps 1/3 of a Wal-Mart Supercenter (that’s 0.33 wms in volume).

    A chill goes up my spine . . .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.