Here is the final installment of the Baptismal Font Article! Today we will look at codes and technical issues.
The code implication of a baptismal font (especially a full immersion font) can be very complicated depending on your jurisdiction. The fact that it is a religious object may help you escape some code implications, but keep in mind that the code regulations have thought and experience behind them. Also, don’t take the first answer as gospel, as minds can change. When we were doing the font at St. Albert in Houston, the sanitation reviewer wanted to treat the font as a pool – including the “no diving” signs (we thought about just translating the phrase into Latin…) until pleas to higher authorities lessened the requirements.
There is a Federal Act named for Virginia Graeme Baker, granddaughter of the former Secretary of State, who drowned because her hair got trapped by a spa drain. Religion will exempt you from this, but I encourage you to use the required drain covers if possible.
The state and local authorities will also have requirements. I encourage you to think about railings and protection around deeper pools—especially if they are directly in the circulation path.
Holy Trinity, Fayetteville, NC – Note how the rocks help direct the splash and the continuous drain around the perimeter controls the water.
St. Albert Trapani, Houston, TX – By supplying to the bottom side of the bowl, you get an ‘endless’ supply of water in the bowl—even as you scoop water out. Note the bowl must be very level and smooth to get the sheeting action to work well on the sides.
Finally, here are a couple of technical tips that we have learned.
Be sure to have an easily accessed on/off switch, especially when you have flowing water in the worship space. There will be times when the noise of the water is distracting. It can make some people feel the need to use the restrooms…
Similarly, be careful about creating large splash zones, both to minimize noise and to keep most of the splashing contained within the font. Excess water on the floors can be very dangerous. Designing the font to cushion the water as it falls with rocks, slopes, and shorter drops will help control splashing.
If you have a bowl and a pool, if you put the supply into the bowl with enough volume (look at the Salem and St. Albert fonts), you can scoop water out of the bowl continuously without ever emptying it. This gives an incredibly neat endless water effect.
Be sure to confirm what needs to be done with the water once it has been blessed. All vessels are periodically going to have to be drained for cleaning and maintenance. Plumbing to a dry well is not a complicated event, but should also be run by the city reviewers.
Think about lighting, video, and especially microphones. Electricity and water do not mix well. We have heard of people actually dying from a microphone getting into a font.
Be sure to have a mechanical room nearby for the pumps, filters, heater, etc. You will want to begin coordinating the with the mechanical designer and font installer early in the process. The technology is not expensive, but mistakes can be.
If you are a Catholic church, remember that that the Ambry needs to have a relationship with the baptismal font, as one of the oils in the Ambry is used for baptism. Also, creating a relationship with the reconciliation room and the baptismal font provides a nice image of cleansing—even if it is just a view from the room. Be sure to coordinate with your Diocesan leadership as, as various Dioceses can have subtle but important expectations for the font and the liturgy.
If people are going to get into the font, sure to understand both how people can enter and exit the font safely and how they can transition to changing areas without getting everything wet. Simple planning with robes and towels can suffice, but be sure you discuss it first.
I hope this article will be helpful as you consider font options for your worship space. Whether you’re thinking of designing a full-immersion font or a simple, classic vessel, a baptismal font can do much to bring beauty and symbolism to a worship space. If not properly thought out, a font can be a source of technical difficulties, but a well designed baptismal font can add meaning and beauty to the baptism and worship experience – and be a treasured centerpiece of your space for generations to come.
Holy Trinity, Fayetteville, NC
Baptism at Custom Entry Doors