Beach baptisms in Laie and…

…throughout Hawaii. At the outset, let me say I sustain my Latter-day Saint Church leaders, and will follow their directions, one of the most recent of which I just heard this evening — February 15, 2009, when our Laie Hawaii North Stake President Finau Hafoka announced……that Hawaii Area Authority Seventy Elder Scott Whiting has made a decision, effective March 2009: All baptisms in Hawaii are to be held in chapel fonts, and no longer at various beaches…thus effectively ending generations of baptisms in the ocean in Laie and many other locations in Hawaii.

President Hafoka explained the stake presidents council discussed this with lots of emotion, but in the end apparently Elder Whiting’s concern for the accuracy and sacred nature of the ordinance carried the decision. For example, he said some witnesses do not enter the ocean; and even in Laie, there are sometimes other beach users around when the services take place, although the Temple Gardens feature in Laie is a beautiful spot that provides some exclusivity.

For my part, I quickly grew to love baptisms in the ocean while serving as a Mormon missionary in Samoa in the mid-1960s where there often was no other choice; and while growing up with a strong Mormon heritage I heard many stories of Latter-day Saint baptisms in locations other than a font — you know, the ones where somebody had a chop a hole in the ice. In Tutuila, for example, before the former LDS Mapusaga High School became the Community College of American Samoa,  there was a font: We used to have to go three or four hours early to clean it up, because it took that long to fill — after  removing the leaves and mud, and chasing away bugs and frogs.

I remember when I was a boy growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah, that as far as I knew all the kids in the   valley were baptized in the world-famous Tabernacle. The baptismal is still there in the southwest portion of the Tabernacle, or at least it was the last time I looked. But even in those days this meant that baptismal font got a lot of traffic, with wards and stakes  scheduled to hold all their baptisms on certain dates, not just on somebody’s birthday. So when my family and I were out of town during my 8th birthday in June 1953, our ward schedule didn’t come around again until October 31st — which has helped me remember the exact date I was baptized (and confirmed the very next day at fast meeting, as we used to do in those days).

As I whole-heartedly moved to Laie soon after my mission, I came to love the many baptisms of friends and family members I’ve been to at Temple Beach (the one straight makai of the Laie Hawaii Temple). I understand perfectly why it’s become a tradition for generations of families. For instance, when it came time to baptize our twin girls — Daisy and Sina — we were temporarily living in the Kapahulu section of Honolulu, but we made the effort for our whole extended family from various parts of Oahu to meet at Temple Beach for their early-morning baptism. I remember pointing up Hale La’a Blvd. in the golden morning sunrise to the temple and reminding the girls that’s where their mom and I were married. Each of our three boys — Derek, Wayland and Gavin — were also baptized there in turn, as were some of our nieces and nephews who grew up in other parts of the island.

Please don’t get me wrong: I’ve been to family baptisms in other chapels and fonts, and they’re also very nice . . . but there’s something special to me about being baptized in the ocean at Laie, and I imagine Latter-day Saints have been doing it for the past 140-plus years.

As one ward mission leader in the stake meeting tonight said, he has attended many beautiful baptisms off Kahuku and added he was “in pain over the new policy,” but he would follow it. “You don’t have to agree, as long as you support it,” President Hafoka replied.

I’m glad my children had the opportunity to be baptized at Temple Beach, and I hope the beautiful circumstances make it more memorable for them. I also take some comfort in knowing such policies change from time to time. Two analogous examples:

  • Several years ago when I was on a trip to the North Island of New Zealand with the Mormon Pacific Historical Society, the late Aunty Raewyn Shelford and her husband, Uncle Colin Karewa Shelford, told us when we were at the Te Awarua Chapel how years ago mission leaders in New Zealand made a decision that from then on all church meetings were to be conducted in English. Aunty told us how some of the older Maori sisters, who didn’t speak much English, wept when they were released from their callings. This policy apparently persisted until the son of Wendell Mendenhall, Mission President Paul Mendenhall (1999-2002), who had learned Maori as a child when his father was building up the South Pacific labor mission efforts, changed it back. Kia kaha!
  • Have you heard how chocolate contains caffeine, or something very much like caffeine, and consequently, some Latter-day Saints think to drink hot chocolate is against the Word of Wisdom? Well, they grow koko or cacao in Samoa: It’s a beautiful tree with sorta’ football-shaped pods (altho’ smaller) that grow right out of the trunk and branches, then turn dark-reds-and-purple-through-bright-yellowish colors when they’re ripe. After the seeds inside are dried and roasted, Samoans mash them (leaving plenty of  penu or peanut-like bits to chew on) and brew koko Samoa — the world’s best, 100% nothing-taken-out full-on absolutely-unforgettably-delicious chocolate. Apparently over the decades some mission presidents would fa’asä or forbid the missionaries from drinking koko Samoa because it was against the Word of Wisdom; but the next one would like it so much that he would lift the ban…and so on. I’m glad my mission presidents (Hanks and Price) both liked it, as I do to this day.

So, perhaps some day the beach baptism policy in Hawaii will change again. After all, it’s not like we’re chopping holes in the ice: This is Hawaii, where many people feel the beauty of the ‘äina, ke kahakai a me ka moana add a lot to the spirit of the occasion. I, for one, hope so.


  1. Malo lava, Mike! I saw your blog through Facebook as I was perusing Duane’s new account and saw your status. Sole, e sa’o lava oe o le a misia lava papatisoga e fai i le matafaga. This seems to be yet again another manifestation of western culture and thought being pushed on a worldwide church. Certainly, there is value in supporting our leaders, but my heart cries with many others in losing such a wonderful tradition. I was actually hoping one day to participate in an ocean baptism. I guess it will have to be somewhere else. Hopefully I don’t have to chop ice to do it! :)

  2. June Booth says:

    I’m saddened to hear that there no longer will be baptisms at Temple Beach. While my husband and I were serving there at the PCC last year, our daughter and her husband brought our 8-year-old grandson and his five siblings to Hawaii so we could be there at his baptism.

    They chose to have it performed there at Temple Beach just as the sun came up over the ocean. No one else was on the beach, except both sets of grandparents, his family, and two family friends.

    It was a very sacred and special occasion and probably the most reverent one that we have witnessed of our previous 12 grandchildren’s baptisms. Bishop Keala of the BYUH 1st Ward was there as the presiding priesthood authority. After, Tyler’s confirmation there on the beach, his older brother, Casey, was ordained a Deacon.

    Both young men will always remember that sacred occasion in Laie in the beautiful ocean that morning. And so will all those who were witnesses at those special occasions.

    But, as you mentioned, we may not agree with the policy, but we will support it and we will do that.

    Thanks for your wonderful blog. I just stumbled on it looking for news from Laie. I will be on again!

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