We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Celebrating the Rappahannock River

In Year A The first reading is taken from the creation story in Genesis, Genesis 1:1-2:4a. There is a portion which deals with the waters.

“And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.”

“And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.”

It led me to think of the Rappahannock River, a portion which flows by St. Peter’s and Port Royal. We celebrate the river in a yearly celebration “Gospel on the River” and on Easter Sunday in the Sunrise service.

We usually sing “Shall We Gather at the River”, a hymn of the River which was written one afternoon in July, 1864, when Robert Lowry, the author, was pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church, Brooklyn, N.Y. The weather was oppressively hot, and the author was lying on a lounge in a state of physical exhaustion. His mind raced through various symbols of life – the heavenly river, the throne and the saints.

The river is a constant factor today as it was in the past. It was the reason why Port Royal was created in the 18th century. Today it is celebrated for its beauty, peace, and recreation.

The King Singers released “Down in the River to Pray”, recorded acapella from their homes during COVID-19 which was the basis for our video. The original album it was on goes back to 2005. They write, “From our homes during isolation, we recorded a song which has been very special to us ever since it was arranged by our former baritone, Philip Lawson, in 2002.” The song is much older. The earliest known version of the song, titled “The Good Old Way,” was published in Slave Songs of the United States in 1867.The song (#104) was contributed to that book by George H. Allan of Nashville, Tennessee, who may also have been the transcriber.

This video was put together as a another means of celebrating the river. It was created for Trinity Sunday in 2020. Photographs of the Rappahannock river in various seasons at various events (Gospel on the River) were combined with their vocal adaptation to create a video celebrating the peace and spiritual nature of that river.