Ingathering water ceremony, 2006

This water ingathering service was led by Rev. Dan Harper. As usual, the text below is a reading text. The actual worship service deviated from the text due to ad libs, interjections, and other improvisation. Copyright (c) 2006 Daniel Harper.

Introduction to the Water Ingathering Ceremony

Those of us who live near the ocean know well that the sea gathers people from all over the world, brining vastly different cultures in contact with each other. In the book Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana tells how he shipped as a common sailor, before the mast, in 1834, to engage in trade along the then-wild coast of California. Dana spent several months of that two years curing hides on the beach near the mission of San Diego, where a truly international group had gathered on the beach:

“We were sitting at dinner in our little room, when we heard the cry of ‘Sail ho!’ … and there, sure enough, were two sails coming round the point, and leaning over from the strong north-west wind, which blows down the coast every afternoon. The headmost was a ship, and the other, a brig. … As they drew nearer, we soon discovered the high poop and top-gallant forecastle, and other marks of the Italian ship Rosa, and the brig proved to be the Catalina, which we saw at Santa Barbara, just arrived from Valparaiso. They came to anchor, moored ship, and commenced discharging hides and tallow. … and the beach, for several days, was all alive. The Catalina had several Kanakas [or Polynesians] on board, who were immediately besieged by the others, and carried up to the oven, where they had a long pow-wow, and a smoke. Two Frenchmen, who belonged to the Rosa’s crew, came in, every evening. … Several of the Italians slept on shore at their hide-house; and there, and at the tent in which the Fazio’s crew lived, we had some very good singing almost every evening. The Italians sang a variety of songs-barcarollas, provincial airs, etc.; in several of which I recognized parts of our favorite operas and sentimental songs. … One young man, in particular, had a falsetto as clear as a clarionet.
“The greater part of the crews of the vessel’s came ashore every evening, and we passed the time in going about from one house to another, and listening to all manner of languages. The Spanish was the common ground upon which we all met; for every one knew more or less of that. We had now, out of forty or fifty, representatives from almost every nation under the sun: two Englishmen, three Yankees, two Scotchmen, two Welshmen, one Irishman, three Frenchmen (two of whom were Normans, and the third from Gascony,) one Dutchman, one Austrian, two or three Spaniards, (from old Spain,) half a dozen Spanish-Americans and half-breeds, two native Indians from Chili and the Island of Chiloe, one Negro, one Mulatto, about twenty Italians, from all parts of Italy, as many more Sandwich Islanders, one Otaheitan, and one Kanaka from the Marquesas Islands.

“The night before the vessels were ready to sail, all the Europeans united and had an entertainment at the Rosa’s hide-house, and we had songs of every nation and tongue. A German gave us ‘Och! mein lieber Augustin!’ the three Frenchmen roared through the Marseilles Hymn; the English and Scotchmen gave us ‘Rule Britannia,’ and ‘Wha’ll be King but Charlie?’ the Italians and Spaniards screamed through some national affairs, for which I was none the wiser; and we three Yankees made an attempt at the “Star-spangled Banner.” After these national tributes had been paid, the Austrian gave us a very pretty little love-song, and the Frenchmen sang a spirited thing called “Sentinelle! O prenez garde a vous!” and then followed the melange which might have been expected. When I left them, … they were all singing and talking at once, and their peculiar national oaths were getting as plenty as pronouns.”

So writes Richard Henry Dana. Here in our church, in the port city of New Bedford, we gather together as people descended from many different lands, from many different peoples. We are Yankees and Irish and Italian and Portuguese, we are descended from the peoples of Africa and the native peoples of North America, our families spoke Spanish and English and Portuguese. Let us take two minutes, 60 seconds, and hear from each other: If you are moved to do so, say out loud your ethnic identity or identities: where your people come from, whom you consider yourself to be. Don’t wait for others to finish before you speak, just speak as soon as the spirit moves you. Let us begin now.

[People speak as moved]

Rain is what lets the cool green hills of earth stay green; rain falling from dark rain clouds; clouds made up of evaporated water from lakes and oceans; lakes and oceans fed by networks of rivers and streams and brooks that we call watersheds; watersheds wherein grow the plants and herbs and trees and shrubs that make up the cool green hills of earth. That is one part of the vast cycle of water; and we too are part of the cycle of water, water we drink and wash in and depend upon to grow our food; everything living thing is part of the cycle of water. So it is that we linked by water to the blue-green hills of earth and to every living thing; so it is that we are all linked to each other by our dependence on water.

When we gather here to begin a new church year together, we participate in a ritual gathering of the waters. If you get the church newsletter, you were invited to bring a small amount of water that somehow represents your summer: some of the water you used to water your garden, perhaps; or water from one of the city or town beaches that you visited this summer; or water from a place you visited; or water from a stream or river nearby that is important to you. If you didn’t get the church newsletter, or if you forgot, don’t worry: we have cups of water here for you to use; when your turn comes, you can pour one of these little cups of water into the communal bowl and tell us what it represents from your summer.

Here is how we will do this: Please line up here, to my right and your left. When your turn comes, step up onto the platform. Speak clearly into the microphone, say your name, and tell us in one or two sentences what your water represents. Please be aware that there are lots of people who will want to speak, and that we usually try to end our worship services no later than five after noon, and limit your remarks accordingly. Tell us just enough to make us curious, so that people will want to approach you during social hour and ask you about your summer.

I’ll start us off. My name is Dan Harper. This summer my partner Carol and I spent the summer taking care of a cat in Cambridge, and this is Cambridge tap water.


We have all added our water to this common bowl, as a symbol that we have gathered together again in community. We can no longer separate this water back out into its constituent parts; I can not remove my Cambridge tapwater from this bowl; and this a symbol, too, a symbol that our covenant with each other will keep us together in the face of adversity.