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How the Flint Water Crisis Transformed Baptisms and Forced Churches to Close

Residents of Flint, Michigan, still don’t drink the water.

They drink bottled water. They use filters to purify the water that flows from their faucets. But after 10 full years, and much assurance from political leaders, they still don’t trust that the quality of their water — once so contaminated it was compared to an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site — is safe enough for their consumption.

Therefore, churches of Flint still don’t regularly conduct baptisms. Not yet.

“For many years since the inception of the problem, we did not baptize at all,” says Bill R. Quarles, deacon at First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Flint. “We had one about eight months ago, but we still don’t baptize on a regular basis.”

It’s a stark departure from their faith, given the importance of baptism in religious ceremonies. But it also indicates the degree of trauma inflicted on the church by the Flint water crisis a decade ago, and a desire to keep congregants safe.

The problem, however, is much more than just the loss of the baptism ritual.

In 2014, Flint had a population of just under 99,000 people. By 2022, the most recent year U.S. Census Bureau data is available, only 79,854 residents remain in the city.

“Five Black churches have closed in the last three months,” says Rev. Derrick Aldridge, senior pastor of Second Chance Church. And due to the inability to easily cook with water, First Trinity still has no fellowship meals, which is a hardship in Baptist churches.

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Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.


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