CLEVELAND — Three church congregations gathered on the bank of the Chattahoochee River in White County at four in the afternoon on Sunday, August 13th for a joint baptismal service. The river baptism took place near the Indian Mound on the beautiful Dyer farm.
The unique outdoor river baptism insured that the ordinance would provide meaningful and lasting memories for each participant.
There were 29 people baptized, some as a result of Vacation Bible School, but several adults as well. Center Baptist Church, where Michael Wilkes is pastor, baptized six new believers. Shoal Creek, where Stacy Dyer is pastor, baptized 23 converts, and Bethel Baptist in White County Association, where Robert Abernathy is pastor, helped with the baptisms. Abernathy was recently ordained by the Shoal Creek Church and is the new pastor at Bethel.
Doug Merck, Mountain Area associational missionary, reported, “There were many unchurched people there who had come to see their friends and relatives baptized.
“After the baptism a wonderful covered dish meal was served to the approximately 300 people present. Hamburgers, hotdogs, and homemade ice cream were enjoyed with wonderful Christian fellowship.”
Gathering at the river
“This was the most people that I remember seeing baptized at one time since I was a teenager at Harmony Grove Baptist Church in Hall County,” Merck added.
The news of the river baptism is reminiscent of the hymn “Shall We Gather At the River,” written by Robert Lowry in 1864. He described the inspiration of the hymn by saying, “One hot afternoon in July 1864, I was resting on my sofa, and visions of heaven pervaded my senses. I saw the bright golden throne room and a multitude of saints gathered around the beautiful, cool, crystal, river of life.
“I was filled with a sense of great joy. I began to wonder why there seemed to be many hymns that referenced the river of death, but very few that mentioned the river of life. As I mused, the words and music to ‘Shall We Gather at the River’ came to my heart and mind.”
The song became a popular song for baptisms, funerals, and camp meetings. And when Lowry wrote the hymn, in the midst of the Civil War, river baptisms were commonplace.
Baptism provides the new believer with an opportunity to take the first step of obedience as a Christian. The baptisms in the Chattahoochee River in the mountains of north Georgia should motivate Georgia Baptists to diligently share their faith with those who need Christ’s redeeming love and forgiveness, and should urge them make much of the ordinance that binds believers to the local church.