This is a transcript of Paul Harvey’s tribute to the Lake Wawasee boat-in, which aired in 1995 as part of his daily program, “News and Comment.”
John Rawlings went a-boatin’, t’was on one Sunday morn. ‘Course, he was neglecting his religion when he took his fishing rod along. He caught himself some bluegill and one kinda measly bass … .
And then, way out there on Indiana’s Lake Wawasee, John heard music. Not just any music. He knew the words: “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling o sinner, come home.”
And fisherman John Rawlings of Greentown, Indiana, got the message. He followed the music, toward its source.
Wawasee Lake is 3,000 acres — 9 miles long. Way down at the west end, where the lake ends at Oakwood Park, is the world’s grandest and most magnificent cathedral.
No walls, no floor, and the ceiling is the sky. Illumination is the rising sun. The pulpit is offshore on a pontoon boat. Surrounding the pontoon pulpit are scores of anchored boats of all dimensions, water skiers and an occasional family of ducks.
On shore, hundreds of worshipers are seated on folding chairs, on blankets on the ground or on the seawall. Musicians are soloists, gospel quartets, trumpeters, some from as far away as Cincinnati. And with a portable microphone 100 feet out into the lake, a preacher is preaching.
It may be the one who founded this boat-in worship 30 years ago, the Rev. Harlan Steffen. Or it may be any of 30 ministers who rotate, representing the regional ministerial association.
After the service concludes with prayer, the boats file past the piers. The boaters drop tithes and offerings into extended fish nets. And with a personal greeting from the pastor, who soon knows most by name, the are waved on their way.
Sunday mornings, spring thaw through Labor Day, when water sports attract new generations of summer people, others like John Rawlings discover weekly spiritual refreshment without ever leaving their beloved boats.
The boats are fancier in recent years — larger, some of them. Worshipers are likely to come from greater distances. Most with no home church welcome this one.
Enthusiasm for boat-in service is almost unanimous. When one scoffer suggested, “It’s sinful to hold church outdoors,” the Rev. Steffen reminded him that Jesus did.
John Rawlings, since his first call to worship those several years ago, has become a regular, looks forward each summer season to the Sunday morning singin’, preachin’ and praise.
At first friends said, “That’s not like John.” But then, curious, the friends began to come along.
To another generation of fishermen, the Lord said, “Come … .”
He promised, “I will make you fishers of men.”