The Rev. Inge Williams — Gathering at the River in Northeastern Synod
Yes, we’ll gather at the river!
On May 7, the Creation Care Task Force of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod sponsored a kayak and canoe trip down the Schuylkill River with our Bishop Samuel Zeiser. Fifty people from nine congregations around the Synod gathered along the river in Hamburg to connect with this historically significant body of water and live out our Baptismal calling to “care for the world God made.” The Schuylkill was a special place for this event because it has a resurrection story to tell. In the 1940s, it was declared a dead river primarily because of pollution from coal silt; it was “too thick to drink and too thin to plow.” A federally-funded clean-up effort has restored the Schuylkill to life over the past several decades; one of the desilting dams lies just above Hamburg.
Before launch, Bishop Zeiser offered reflections on the river’s importance to previous generations, and he recounted his previous journeys on the river raising funds for the Muhlenberg archives. He encouraged the paddlers to be open to how the trip would connect them to God our Creator and Sustainer. The Bishop then led a thanksgiving for Baptism at the water’s edge just before the paddlers began their journey downriver to Leesport. Those who remained behind on land for a youth event sent the paddlers off with song- “He’s got the whole world in His hands!” They spent the rest of the morning reflecting on Genesis 1, playing games, and cleaning up trash along the river. The theme for the day was “DRENCHED in God’s Spirit on the Schuylkill” and the paddlers wore yellow bandanas sporting the phrase.
Along the ten-mile trip to Leesport, the thirty kayakers and canoers encountered lots of wildlife, including scores of geese, barn and tree swallows recently returned from their winter migration, purple martins, turtles, mayflies, snakes, and a bald eagle perched in a tree. The land crew, led by Pastor Bruce Osterhout, provided river-side pizza delivery along the way. The flow of the river facilitated conversation among the group as we got to know people from different congregations and hear each other’s stories. We were immersed in the community of creation, as we passed through the woods, by small towns, and under busy bridges. It was an energizing day at the river, as we celebrated how God’s gift of water sustains our life and the life of all creatures. That same water, through Baptism, empowers and equips us as children of God to advocate to keep God’s creation healthy and whole.
The Rev. Inge Williams is pastor of Friedens Church in Shartlesville.