Officials at Northwood Temple Academy, a private Christian school in North Carolina, have come under fire from some parents after more than 100 middle and high school students were baptized at the school without the consent of their parents.
"My daughter calls me from the school and says, 'Mama, can you bring me some dry clothes? I got baptized today,'" one parent told The Fayetteville Observer. "I said, 'What?'"
The baptisms were conducted last Thursday at the end of an event known as Spiritual Emphasis Week, a tradition in which middle and high school students usually place additional focus on building their relationship with God.
On Thursday night, the academy shared what happened at the end of its most recent Spiritual Emphasis observance in a post on Facebook.
"We had over 100 middle and high school students spontaneously declare their faith and get baptized today," the post noted, sharing an image of a woman hugging a student.
"Through the chapel services students praise and worship the Lord. Students and faculty minister to one another through prayer, music and Bible messages. During chapel services students are also recognized for various achievements. Parents are encouraged and welcome to attend chapel," reads the handbook.
The 70-page handbook does not mention anything about baptism.
One parent complained to The Observer that they missed not being allowed to witness their child's baptism, while another parent said the school's baptism felt like it "undid the baptism that had already taken place at their church."
"This is what I think they should have done," an unidentified parent said. "They should have corralled the kids in the back of the church, another room — somewhere — and said, 'We understand your desire to get this done. We'd love for your families to be here and present with you."
Northwood Head of School Renee McLamb told The Christian Post on Monday that the school did not plan on baptizing so many students and said they were responding to what they saw as a "move of God."
“Although this is NOT our norm — we have never before baptized without the permission of the parent — and even letting the parent chose who is to baptize their child — many in the past have invited their church Pastor or a grandparent who may be a minister. It is always our desire to partner with the parent in the spiritual development of their child/children,” she said. “None of the faculty were expecting what happened to happen. The Lord moved and students were moved to respond on that Thursday morning.”
When asked about the message that sparked the baptisms among the students, McLamb said that every school year, they choose a theme verse from the Bible to guide discipleship.
The theme for this school year is based on the verse from 1 Timothy 6:19.
"In this way storing up for themselves the enduring riches of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life," she said.
Last Thursday, the message was focused on the students making the choice to give their life to Jesus.
"That was the message, and the students began to line up. We did not expect the students to respond in the manner they did, although at the end of the day, we are happy that they did," McLamb said.
One substitute teacher who witnessed the baptisms recalled what they saw in an email shared with CP by McLamb.
"It was a blessing to see the baptism. I noticed a high school student, he was probably 11th or 12th grade. He was new to the school. I don't know his name but even though his friends were talking he kept leaning forward to focus on the speakers. When students went up to pray he hesitated but I could feel he wanted to go pray. A teacher went over and prayed with him. The day of baptism he again was watching and I could see he wanted to be baptized. At the end he walked up and was baptized. I feel that was a spiritual blessing for him and will make a forever impact on his life," the teacher wrote.
"I know some students were young and went up with their friends. But I felt it was great for the ones like this young man. The day was life changing for him and probably others," the teacher continued. "Parents that might have been upset because they wanted to be there or they didn't want to bring dry clothes have to realize that saving just one was worth it all. This young man would not have been baptized that day if he had to get permission. The Holy Spirit was working with him that day. It was a perfect day."