Sperryville column for Sept. 22

The gift of the Thornton River

For hundreds of years, the banks of the Thornton River have played host to fishing, and swimming, picnics and simple gatherings. Rock Mills is a favorite spot where my gentle dogs love to splash and swim, where shells are plucked from the sand and smiles abound. The banks of the rivers are also host to baptisms.

A vintage family photo of a Thornton River baptism in which her mother (the young girl bending over in the front-center of the group), her grandmother and great-grandmother appear.Courtesy of Lori Ritenour Peregory
A vintage family photo of a Thornton River baptism in which her mother (the young girl bending over in the front-center of the group), her grandmother and great-grandmother appear.

Parishioners from country churches, many the size of intimate parlors, furnished with pews instead of chairs, and replete with fiery preachers and talented musicians, show up with great anticipation upon the stone-studded river banks. Angelic voices sing hymns accompanied by the softly strummed guitars. Adults and children alike are submerged in the clear mountain waters and give testimonials before a warm and welcoming audience of friends and of fellow parishioners.

This past weekend, the North Fork of the Thornton River in Old Hollow played host to such a baptism. Fifty or so parishioners from the Amissville Full Gospel Church arrived to watch nine of their sisters and brothers, their brethren, celebrate their faith.

Amissville Full Gospel Church congregants gather on the banks of the North Fork of the Thornton River last weekend, including Lori Ritenour Peregory (kneeling with camera in red) and her son, Bryce (standing beside her).By Chris Green
Amissville Full Gospel Church congregants gather on the banks of the North Fork of the Thornton River last weekend, including Lori Ritenour Peregory (kneeling with camera in red) and her son, Bryce (standing beside her).

I was a child of immigrants who came to Canada fleeing the ravages of post World War II Germany, and unlike some people whose faith is fortified by adversity, theirs was not. My dad, Hans Gerhard Viezens, was a Catholic from Bavaria, my mom, Annelore Margrit Hilge, was a Lutheran, from the North, from Prussia. Hans became cynical of the Catholic Church and Annelore, a refugee who’d fled multiple Allied bombings, witnessing her girlfriends lying dead in the cobblestone streets, grew to share in his lack of faith. My brother and I were raised without benefit of religion.

While married for many a year to a Catholic, a church organist, a talented tenor and minister of music for a large cathedral-ceilinged Reston church, and while our children were raised Catholic, I never quite got it — until I entered a tiny country church in Rappahannock. A preacher, from a family of great preachers, Pastor Jimbo Pittman, saw through me and guided my confused soul. Surrounded during Sunday sermons by believers, accepted by total strangers, I found myself embraced with welcome. I began my journey, my wonderful God-fearing, newlywed husband always by my side.

On the banks of the Thornton this past weekend, along with 50 or so congregants, nine of us entered the calm river waters. Children laughed, adults told colorful stories of their ancestors, grand and great grandparents who’d also been baptised in the sparkling Thornton River waters. Keysers, Whortons and Clatterbucks discussed family relations, and a young man told me with a smile, he was related to practically everyone in attendance.

Folks spoke with great fondness and reminisced of Archie Clatterbuck, a gifted preacher of years gone by, a man who’d baptised more than several in attendance as well their parents and grandparents. The guitarist intoned that many a secret were held in the hollow and its quiet river banks. He is a member of a popular local bluegrass band, and spoke of the upcoming event at the Washington fire hall this coming Saturday where four bluegrass bands will play to raise monies for Gary Jenkins.

Living in the county, savoring the locals and local lore, is an honor and a privilege.

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