The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Headwaters of life

Our baptism is a once-for-a-lifetime gift

When spring comes to the Bitterroot Mountains in northern Idaho, melting snow swells the headwaters of the Clearwater River. A trinity of streams — the North, South and Middle Forks — makes three separate journeys before becoming a single river. It flows into the Snake as it winds its way toward the mighty Columbia rolling westward to the Pacific Ocean. While these rivers run to the sea, salmon and steelhead swim upstream, returning home to the Clearwater to spawn.

Photo by Kevin W. WeinsteinThe first human stories of this river and its bounty belong to the ancestors of the Nez Perce, whose lands and lives it still nourishes. Later, explorers, loggers and miners added their stories — then farmers looking for fertile land and families longing for a fresh start. To all who come, the river is a source of life, providing water for drinking, bathing and growing crops, a passageway for travel and trade, abundant food and breathtaking beauty.

One bright Sunday morning in May, a procession came to the banks of the Clearwater and wound its way down to a sheltered cove. The pilgrims carried baskets fragrant with food — the promise of a potluck picnic. When they arrived on the pebbled shore, the baskets produced additional treasure: a Bible, candle, bread, wine and a baby. The whole community of Good Hope Lutheran Church, Gifford, Idaho, had come on Pentecost Day to baptize Hannah and welcome her as a member with them in the body of Christ.

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