Blessings Flow at River Church


(Voice of Anne Connolly) “I don’t think
of myself as a church person at all. Nature is God. This is God, the trees, the river.” It’s Sunday morning, on the Nantahala River
in Western, North Carolina. In this community, many people are more comfortable
in a canoe than a church pew. “What our generation is about it’s about
going out there and living with God.” Since 2007, hundreds of paddlers, guides and
young adults… Pastor Wayner: “Are you gonna paddle with
us today?” …have found refreshment, and relationship,
in this riverside brew pub turned chapel. Former U.S. National Team paddler Anne Connolly
is a regular. “There is no experience like it. I drive
two-and-a-half hours to come to church here.” Pastor Wayner: “Welcome to the River of
Life!” Pastor, and former Olympic paddler, Wayne
Dickert and his congregation at Bryson City United Methodist Church provide this waterside
worship service. Pastor Wayner: “God’s Kingdom is present.” Many in the rafting community come to the
mountains because they feel like outsiders. They relate to Wayner, as he is known to this
crowd, because he is a fellow paddler. Pastor Wayner: “One of the best ways in
this community is just to be out on the water with folks and just connect with them on a
personal level.” Sarah Ruhlen:“He doesn’t say you need
to be perfect. He’s like, ‘I know a lot of what your heart is feeling in a lot of these situations because I’ve been there.’” Nineteen-year-old river guide Sarah Ruhlen
is thankful the church comes to the river where she works many Sundays. Sarah Ruhlen: “There are a couple of little
churches but it’s not like there signs that say ‘Hey come to this church. We love you,
raft guides.” Pastor Wayner: “You have to make this decision,
do I go to church or do I make money to live on?” Cricket Barnett also works in the outdoor community where Sundays may be the busiest day of the week. Cricket Barnett, River Church Regular: “They
can go to church in the morning and then go to work in the afternoon or go for a paddle
and still have a full day on the water.” (Group sings: “Amazing Grace”) Anne Connolly: “Everyone can come together and be exactly who they are and be accepted and loved.” River church is an open worship experience,
including traditions like sharing “God Sightings.” Church member: “I saw God through the face
of my daughter and grandchildren.” Anne Connolly: “I see God every day and
I have for the past four years. I was homeless and had 100 dollars to my name.
Now, I have a car, I am in school getting my Master’s degree and I’ll graduate in
a year. I want to thank you for helping me through the hardest time in my life.” Wayner whispers: “Amen.”
Anne whispers back, “Thank you, love you.” He says “Love you, too.” One-hundred-percent of the offering goes to a cause that matters to this group – clean water projects. Pastor Wayner: “We just put in our 16th
well in Haiti.” After church, it’s right to the water. Pastor Wayner: “Here comes Trey.” Pastor Wayner: “This is the perfect marriage
of worship and recreation and re-creation and having that opportunity to have new life
breathed into them.” Anne Connolly: We are church people, kayakers
and rafters and people that get on the water. Nature and the river, that is our church. But it sure is nice to have somebody to pray with when you’re out there.”

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