Riparian Relief


Preservation of wetlands has become almost a religion in Maryland. The holy crusade to protect all pieces of the foundation of life in the Chesapeake has been institutionalized, its mission turned into sacrosanct official doctrine.

Small wonder then that defenders of the estuarine faith in Prince George's County righteously stood their marshy ground for years in rejecting the sacrilege of Christian worshipers trampling over reeds and grasses for the sacrament of baptism along a historic bank of the Patuxent River. The Pentecostal Holiness church members even had the effrontery to attempt cutting the grass along the river to facilitate the immersion rite.

After a three-year campaign that went to the General Assembly, the black church finally got permission to use the historic site where it had held baptism for 46 years prior to the crackdown by environmental emirs in 1989. The compromise allows the church limited use of the shoreline landing, remembered by many members as a former segregated beach for blacks, while maintaining a minimum grass cover for the wetlands ecosystem.

The decision respects the needs of both sides, but raises the question of why the Prince George's Department of Environmental Resources couldn't have resolved the problem with the church and its bishop, who owns the property, sooner. Reason should have prevailed without such delay.

Laws and regulations need not be carved on stone tablets. They should be tempered with judgment and concern for human sensitivities. The church was not seeking to build a marina or condo complex, or some other threatening development. It simply wanted to perform a fundamental ritual of rebirth in its faith, a right worth honoring.

Happily, when the Trueman Point congregation next sings the familiar hymn, "Shall We Gather at the River," their chorus will be one of celebratory affirmation.

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