Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hiking the Wissahickon with Dr. Gordon Lathrop

Thanks to Tommy Richter for all the amazing pictures.

The Baptisteron
A couple Sundays ago, six members of the LTSP community spent an absolutely beautiful autumn afternoon hiking around the Wissahickon Creek with Dr. Gordon Lathrop.  The event was organized by LTSP's Green Team, and boy, we had a great time and learned a lot as well!  The Wissahickon Creek runs twenty-three miles from Montgomery County, flows through Philadelphia's Fairmount Park system and eventually empties into the Schuylkill River.  Despite the creek's short length, it has a very storied past.  From the late 17th century onward, many mills and damns were built along the creek, including some which can still be seen today.  The area attracted a variety of religious groups, including the monastic-like followers of Johannes Kelpius.  Authors such as Edgar Allen Poe and John Greenleaf Whittier wrote of the area's beauty.

The Devil's Pool
During our four mile hike Dr. Lathrop (being the Liturgy Professor Emeritus that he is) put particular emphasis on the liturgical history of Wissahickon Creek.  In fact, the creek has long served as Philadelphia's baptismal font.  One of our stops was at the Baptisteron, an area of the stream where the first Church of the Brethern baptism took place on Christmas Day in 1723.  An absolutely gorgeous spot called the Devil's Pool may have served as a sacred space for the Lenape American Indian tribe.  Despite it's unfortunate naming, a sort of peace does permeate the area, and local children still often use it as a swimming hole.  Dr. Lathrop has seen more recent congregations baptizing new believers in the creek as well.  Wissahickon Creek was even used once by Dr. Lathrop's own liturgy class for practice baptisms.

The sacred character of the Wissahickon's waters is indisputable, but Dr. Lathrop took this even further by reminding us that all the waters of the world are sacred.  In fact, Martin Luther wrote that when Jesus was baptized, all the waters of the world became a holy flood.  As people of faith, it is important to realize our connection to the waters all around us... the LTSP campus in fact sits in the Wissahickon's watershed.  Moreover, as people drowned and reborn in the waters of baptism everyday, as people of the water, we should profoundly care for our lakes, rivers and streams.

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