Going down the river to pray
by Rebecca Johnston
January 20, 2013 12:10 AM | 1595 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rebecca Johnston<br>Cherokee Tribune Managing Editor
Rebecca Johnston
Cherokee Tribune Managing Editor
When Seth Hubbard waded into the baptismal waters at Heritage Baptist Fellowship last week, the waters were cold.

Ten-year-old Seth, the son of Jason and Holly Lacy Hubbard, was miked so he could be heard when he professed his faith, which he did with full sincerity.

But a moment later, as he stepped down into the baptismal pool behind the choir loft, he reported just as loudly that the water was cold.

The heater was broken and I am sure the waters were indeed chilly in mid-January, but perhaps not as cold as those rivers where old-time baptisms took place.

Despite the chill, and maybe because of the moment of levity as well as the solemnness of the service, the day was a special one at our little church. Seth is the grandson of Cathy Lacy, who attends church with us, and Jim and Peggy Hubbard, who are often visitors there.

We are a close-knit congregation and witnessing Seth’s baptism was a joyous occasion for all those in attendance.

The choir led off with the song, “Down in the River to Pray” made popular by the movie “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?”

My husband sings in the choir and I was proud of him and all the members as they sang the words of that old Appalachian hymn believed to have been written in the 19th century, possibly by slaves.

Like many of the spirituals and songs from that time, the music is as moving as the words, and the words alone conjure up a vivid image.

“Going down in the river to prayer, studying about that good old way, and who shall wear the starry crown, good Lord, show me the way.”

The choir stood in the choir loft singing, then they parted like a river and walked out of the choir loft revealing our pastor, Jake Hall.

As I listened to the moving song and waited for Seth to be baptized, I remembered the day I was baptized at First Baptist Church Canton by the Rev. George Snelling.

Rev. Snelling was younger than our former pastors, a good-looking man and a charismatic minister, something new for our church if I remember correctly.

I was 10 years old when I was saved, just like Seth. It was a warm day and our church was not air conditioned back then.

Paper fans aplenty were waving, I am sure, as I made my way down during the hymn of response.

I gave my hand to Rev. Snelling and made a life commitment to God.

My father, who for all the years I lived at home was the clerk of our church, came down immediately to write down my name.

The song that was being sung was “Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way. Thy art the potter, I am the clay.”

A lot of years have passed since I was 10 and saved, and I have certainly not always been faithful or adhered to the Lord’s way.

But I know that I was saved that day, and that the day I was baptized I gave over my life to God.

The Rev. Snelling later moved to a church in Nevada, and later got a divorce and married the church secretary there.

I can remember while he was in Canton a lot of adults who had resisted the call found Christ, and he was beloved by our church congregation, or at least that was how it seemed to me then.

One of those was a man who now is long dead, and who was a childhood friend of my father.

But after the war the gentleman took to drink, and had long been unrepentant.

He too was saved around the time I was.

As I grew into a young adult, I sometimes wondered if our conversions, mine and the friend of my father’s, had actually taken or if somehow because of the later transgressions of the pastor they were voided.

It always was a struggle for me to be the kind of Christian I wanted to be, and still is.

I so often fall short.

But, of course, I know the failings are all mine.

But somehow seeing Seth baptized in the clear light of a new year, seeing a young child just starting his life again on a clear path, gave me fresh hope and fresh resolve.

We went down in the river to pray with Seth and he helped show us the good old way.

None of us know whether we will ever wear the starry crown.

But we thank God he has shown us the way.

Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.
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