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Published: 11/5/2005

Microphone safety tips proposed for pastors

BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

After the electrocution of a Texas minister in a baptismal pool on Sunday, experts say that pastors should use only wireless microphones when performing full-immersion baptisms.

The Rev. Kyle Lake, 33, pastor of University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, died after he reached to adjust a corded microphone while standing in waist-high water in the church's baptismal, officials said. The woman he was going to baptize during the Sunday morning service, attended by about 800 people, was standing beside Mr. Lake but was unharmed.

Experts on church safety and sound systems say that such accidents are extremely rare in light of the many thousands of full-immersion baptisms that take place every year in the United States.

But experts have some advice for ministers who seek to take precautions in the baptistery.

"The most important thing is that there are no corded or hard-wired microphones in the [baptismal] pool," said Eric Spacek, a risk management official for GuideOne Insurance in Des Moines, Iowa. The company insures 43,000 churches in 50 states.

"If they had to go with hard wires, we would recommend that the microphone be anchored in the ceiling and not adjusted at all by the pastor," Mr. Spacek said.

Corded microphones are designed to carry only a weak line-level radio signal, with most of the electrical power provided by a sound amplifier, experts said. Normally, a microphone would not pose a serious health risk unless the wiring was faulty or there was a problem with the electrical circuit.

"The hazard would not be the microphone wiring, but the wiring to the amplifier," said J. William Haskins, an electrical engineer and professor emeritus at the University of Toledo.

The cause of the Waco accident is being investigated by authorities and technical professionals, University Baptist Church said in a statement.

Bob Peeler, owner of Peeler Music in South Toledo, is a former professional musician who has installed sound equipment in many northwest Ohio churches.

"As a retired musician, I've been shocked numerous times with a microphone," Mr. Peeler said. "Typically the cause of it is that the circuit the sound system is plugged into is not a grounded circuit. A musician might have his hands on the guitar strings, then grab ahold of a microphone, his lips are a little moist, and boom, he gets a shock."

But the jolt is rarely severe enough to cause bodily harm, he said.

Both Mr. Peeler and Mr. Spacek recommended that electrical outlets near baptismal pools be connected to a ground fault circuit interrupter, which acts like a fuse and shuts off power if there is a surge of electricity.

The Rev. Tony Scott, pastor of Cathedral of Praise in Monclova Township, said he has always been careful not to touch wired microphones while performing baptisms.

"We were taught in Bible college to be careful not to pick up something that's connected to an electrical circuit while in a baptismal," Mr. Scott said. "I've always been leery of that. So when wireless came out about 15 years ago, we went to wireless."

Most wireless microphones use nine-volt batteries and pose little or no risk, even around water, the experts said. Even if a wireless mic were dropped into a baptismal pool, the only damage would be to the microphone itself, which would short out.

"That's really the absolute safest way to go," Mr. Peeler said. "I know that if I were a preacher, there's no way I'd go into a baptismal pool with a wired mic. No way."

Mr. Spacek said the most common claims filed with GuideOne Insurance over baptisms involve slips and falls on or near the tub.

One other electrocution similar to the Waco accident occurred in Larose, La., in 1994, when the Rev. John Allen died after touching a microphone during a baptism ceremony, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.

- David Yonke



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