Our Savior Lutheran’s annual worship service on a boat holds a special surprise this year

Samantha Rosas and Brian Creasman held their wedding aboard a Mississippi Explorer Cruise boat Sunday, August 28 during the annual worship service held on the vessel by Our Savior Lutheran Church. Their wedding was a surprise for the congregation during the unique annual service. Photo by Susan Cantine-Maxson.

by Susan Cantine-Maxson

For one local congregation, the lyrics of a hymn have a literal meaning, “Shall we gather at the river? …Yes, we’ll gather at the river,  the beautiful, the beautiful river.”

For nine years, congregation members of Our Savior Lutheran in Lansing have participated in an annual summer church service held on a 90-passenger tour boat of the Mississippi Explorer Cruise Company. The first service in 2008 began because someone interested in becoming a member of the congregation wanted to be baptized by full immersion in the Mississippi River because the river was an important symbol in her life. Living in the area was part of her spiritual journey. Therefore, it seemed logical to fulfill that journey by being baptized in the river.

Lutherans don’t require full immersion baptism and usually baptize with a small amount of water from a font in the church, but this request triggered Pastor Laura Gentry’s creative problem-solving skills. She approached the church council with the request and they decided to charter a boat to accomplish the baptism. The service was so popular that the council decided to continue the practice.

Some trips have been sponsored by congregation members, but others have been included into the church budget. There have been a total of six baptisms over the years. For the first baptism, Captain Jack Libbey pulled the vessel up to a sandbar so Pastor Laura Gentry, the baptismal candidates, sponsors and a number of other passengers could disembark. The others observed from the boat.

Parish members enjoy the informality of the church service which follows the regular service liturgy. Since the boat ride usually is about an hour and a half, there’s plenty of time for  the congregation to enjoy nature’s beauty as well.

This year, Pastor Gentry convinced a local couple who wanted to be married that they should have the wedding ceremony as part of the service on the river boat. Pastor Gentry explained, “In the late nineteenth century, it was standard practice to have the sacrament of matrimony during the regular service.  As the middle class grew, so did the wedding ceremony. Eventually it became a separate ceremony with a great deal of pomp and circumstance.”
Samantha Rosas  and Brian Creasman agreed.

This was the first time that Pastor Gentry has officiated at a wedding on a boat and the first time that it was incorporated into the service. The congregation members were unaware that the wedding was going to take place so there was an element of surprise.

Samantha says of the experience, “It was a wonderful, memorable event for us both to have our wedding aboard the riverboat. We enjoyed it very much and so did our family members who were able to attend.”

This year’s boat service began in the shroud of dense fog. The boat personnel explained that the boat could not depart from shore unless there was visibility for two miles. After the service began, the fog began to lift and the boat chugged out to journey up the river. Megan Vinson and Macy Vinson provided special music for the service.

After the normal service, Pastor Gentry announced the wedding surprise. The bride and groom came forward and the congregation became the wedding guests. Family members of the couple were also in attendance. The service took place on the boat because many of the local sand bars were under water as a result of the recent heavy rains.

Two congregation members, Donna Reed and Sue Limbach, who were in on the secret had made celebration cupcakes as a surprise for the couple. After the conclusion of the ceremony, everyone celebrated by blowing bubbles and wishing the couple well.

The annual boat ride service usually takes place during the third weekend in August. The service is open to all who wish to take part in it.