DEMOREST, Ga. – Take me to the river — the saying still resonates in some Southern churches where the tradition of river baptism remains alive.
The chilly, rapid waters of North Georgia's Chattahoochee and Coosawattee rivers serve to baptize members of the River Point Community Church in Cornelia and the Resaca Church of God in Resaca.
On a couple of recent late-summer Sundays, congregants of each church gathered for the ancient sacrament, memorialized in the Gospel account of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River. Children from age 7 and adults well into their 70s are baptized by pastors or family.
Many denominations don't fully immerse baptismal candidates, preferring to sprinkle them with water. And in churches that do immersion baptism, water tanks built inside the church's sanctuary have largely replaced excursions to dunk members in a river or pond.
But 49-year-old Kevin Mangum, the pastor who leads River Point, says river baptisms offer a special setting to assemble a crowd and demonstrate lives changed by Christ.
His church performs a mass baptism, once in the spring and again in the fall. Prayers go out for good weather, but Sept. 18 brought a "real frog-choker," as Mangum described the heavy rains.
Magnun said that as he looks at the hundreds of congregants by the river's edge in the rain, he sees their dedication as they celebrate new life in Jesus Christ.
"It's relaxing and restorative in the waters," said Mangum, who fly-fishes at this same spot on the Chattahoochee.
Resaca Church of God member Ciara Langford watched two of her daughters baptized in the Coosawattee recently, as a late-summer sun shone above foliage not yet browned by autumn, and the mountain stream rushed past.
"I felt immense joy and peace," she said. "The peace comes from knowing my children are surrendering themselves to something larger than they are."