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.