• Above, Cheryl Blackburn sits on the shoreline of Lake Rabun for the season's first boat church at Clayton First United Methodist Church. (Photos/Megan Broome)
    Above, Cheryl Blackburn sits on the shoreline of Lake Rabun for the season's first boat church at Clayton First United Methodist Church. (Photos/Megan Broome)
  • Boats gather on Lake Rabun for boat church, a service of Clayton First United Methodist Church. (Photos/Megan Broome)
    Boats gather on Lake Rabun for boat church, a service of Clayton First United Methodist Church. (Photos/Megan Broome)

Lake Living: BOAT CHURCH

When taking the boat out on the lake, people typically spend their time relaxing, grilling or swimming in the water. At Clayton First United Methodist Church, people drive their boats to boat church. Christ’s ministry in the mountains found its way to Lake Rabun in the early 1970s by the Rev. Hal Brady, the church’s pastor at the time.

The church website reveals an excerpt about the beginning of boat church in a remembrance by Sally Long Forlines.

Originally called “The Fisherman,” Forlines said that it began with an old barge with four oil cans and a few boards strapped to it. A small motor was mounted to the back of it and a car battery was used to run the public address system.

“That’s kind of the way it went for years and years,” said church member Jerry Wright.

Betty and Guy Hall later donated their boat house for people who wanted to come to the services on foot.

Today, the word of God is shared from a pontoon boat with wireless equipment, but the experience hasn’t changed.

“It still has the same feel of what it used to,” Wright said.

Jeremy Noffsinger has been the associate pastor at the church for several years and said that today’s churches are focusing on how to take church to people who ordinarily wouldn’t go in a traditional way.

“That’s exactly what boat church is to me,” Noffsinger said. “It’s going to where the people are.”

He said that what makes this boat church unique is that it’s sponsored by the United Methodist Church.

Noffsinger talked about “open air preaching” and the challenge of preaching from a pontoon boat because of the echo that travels to boats in the water.

You have to be aware of the echo because the further away the boats are, the worse the echo is, Noffsinger said.

“I have to pace myself so I don’t get ahead of the echo,” Noffsinger said.

He said that getting ready for church to begin is something he looks forward to.

“My favorite part of boat church is probably the prelude,” Noffsinger said. He said getting there early for sound check, watching boats cast their anchors into the water and praying before the service begins is powerful.

“It’s like this moment of pure excitement as they [boats] all flood into church,” Noffsinger said. “It just gets you excited to preach.”

Church member Cheryl Blackburn has fond memories of boat church with her late father because he introduced her to it. “I love boat church,” Blackburn said. “Grew up on boat church. Loved coming back [each summer].”

She even had some of her father’s ashes spread on the rocks they sat on during the service.

“It’s just a super special place for our family,” Blackburn said. She said she loves boat church because it’s a way to “be one with God in a peaceful setting.”

Boat church has played an important role for Wright also.

“It’s a specific ministry, and it’s been a part of a lot of our lives since we were kids,” he said about his family.

Noffsinger said the unique part about having church on the lake is that other curious lake goers will boat or ski by and can decide if they want to stay for the service. “What I think is neat is, they can still ski and not be part of church if they don’t want to,” Noffsinger said. But that option is there for them if they decide to be part of it.

Noffsinger said he hopes that people who are leery of church might experience boat church and decide to start regularly attending and visit a traditional church again.

Noffsinger said that the church continues to practice the four pillars of Methodism: grace, love, peace and hope and bringing church to people on Lake Rabun is one way to do that.

“It’s a nice way to be where the people are,” Noffsinger said.

Boat church takes place on Lake Rabun, next to Hall Boat House Marina, 9 a.m. each Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Northeast Georgian

Mailing Address:
2440 Old Athens Hwy
Cornelia, GA 30531

Phone: 706-778-4215
Fax: 706-778-4114