A Baptist church used promises of pizza and basketball games to attract hundreds of children, then gave them full-body baptisms into a faith that is foreign to many of them, parents charge.
Prosecutors and police in five communities are investigating the complaints against Anchor Baptist Church.
Parents say the church enticed teenagers and younger children onto buses on at least two occasions in July. Instead of getting pizza, the children allegedly were taken to the church in Woburn, made to sit through a long service, then told to undress and put on robes. Those who complied were quickly dunked into a tank of water, parents say.
Many of the children are Roman Catholic. At least one family involved is Buddhist.
“They didn’t tell us about Mass or anything,” said Rosa Vazquez, 14, a Catholic who attended a service with a friend but wouldn’t go through the baptism. “They just told us about the good stuff.”
No one responded by phone or in person at the church. Calls to its pastor, the Rev. Chris Pledger, were not returned.
The state Department of Social Services has said an 8-year-old boy was emotionally harmed in one of the incidents.
Most of the children are from public housing projects.
“Families around here are lucky to get pizza once a month, so if they offer it to kids, they go,” said Lisa Amorin, who said her 3-year-old son, Steven, has been repeatedly approached by church members.
Twelve-year-old Hieu Nguyen, whose family practices Buddhism, said he didn’t understand what was happening when he and his 9-year-old brother, Qui, were baptized.
“We had to go into this bathroom. We had to take off all our clothes and put on this plastic thing,” he said. “Then we had to go into this room and they held our nose and put us in the water.”