Photo of the Month

White River Baptism
Baptism in the White River, possibly near the Carroll County community of Mundell, circa 1915.
Eureka Springs Historical Society Collection (S-99-66-379)

Historically, rivers have sustained Ozark folks in many physical ways: as a means of transportation, an aid to farming, a source of commerce, and a destination for recreation. Many have found the region’s waterways to be a source of spiritual sustenance as well, as the rivers were often the location for the ritual of baptism.

Loyal Jones, retired director of the Appalachian Center at Berea College, Berea, Kentucky, studied the traditional religious views of the Appalachian, Piedmont, and Ozark regions—areas of the country often referred to as the Uplands—for his book, Faith and Meaning in the Southern Highlands (University of Illinois Press, 1999). Jones says this about baptism:

Upland Christians believe some form of water baptism is important to salvation. Water is necessary to life, and it is also a cleanser. In the religious context, water is the universal metaphor for cleansing, renewal, regeneration, and rebirth.

. . . Paul says in Romans 6:3-4 that “so many of us as were baptized in to Jesus Christ were baptized into his death.” He went on to say, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; even so we also should walk in the newness of life.” This is the basis for the belief among many, especially Baptists, that immersion is the only true baptism. 

Baptism by immersion requires waist-deep water so that the minister can lower the person being baptized into the water for a second or two, and then raise him or her back to an upright position. The act symbolizes the burial of one’s sinful nature, the washing away of one’s sins, and the resurrection to a new life in Christ.

Today, few Ozark congregations journey to the banks of a nearby river for baptisms. Most churches perform baptisms in a small pool or “baptistry” located in the church sanctuary.

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