A Holy Baptism on Sacred Ground

11.18.2021 - Events, Giving to Kanuga, Kanuga Stories, Uncategorized

by LaClaire Atkins

“It is a day when we celebrate the communion of saints, the martyrs and ancestors, the people in our lives who have stood in the tradition of the Gospel, who point and beckon us to live our lives like Christ.

All Saints Day invites to look back.

But it also invites to look ahead. And to hope.” —The Rev. Will Bryant, Curate, The Cathedral of All Souls, Asheville NC


My 10-month old son, Jackson, was baptized All Saints weekend, November 6, at St. Francis Chapel at Kanuga. It was a beautiful, cold fall day and one I won’t soon forget.

I come from generations of strong women. We are Tsagali (Cherokee). Kanuga is a Cherokee word that means gathering place and it is sacred ground to my people. This is one of the many reasons I wished to have my Jackson baptized on this land; to honor his grandmother, great-grandmother, and all of his ancestors who walked and cared for this land before him.

In my culture, we are taught to pray for our communities; to give thanks for our ancestors and all that they sacrificed in order that we may be here. We are also taught to pray for the seven generations that come after us; that they be strong and healthy and remember their ancestors. Jackson is the seventh generation from my full-blooded Cherokee great-grandmother, Temperance. It certainly did not escape my thoughts on the day of his baptism, on our sacred Tsagali land, that Temperance prayed for Jackson; for his very existence.

As we moved from the congregation to cross over the wooden bridges at St. Francis Chapel to the altar rail, I was deeply moved by the symbolism of carrying our ancestors with us into the hope of Christian life that is so beautifully expressed in the baptismal liturgy. As Episcopalians, we believe that we embody our faith; that it is lived out in our actions in the world as we love and care for others. That action of embodiment is often expressed in our worship by kneeling, standing, and walking towards the altar in hope. We do not leave anyone behind in this walking towards but rather incorporate all into the mystical body of Jesus. Essentially, we, our bodies, become the bridge.

“All Saints invites us to look back. But it also invites us to look forward. And hope.” 

These were the words in my head from the sermon as I watched my son welcomed into the priesthood of all believers on that beautiful, cold fall day. I look forward with hope for all that he will become, the lives he will touch, and the blessing he will be to all who encounter him, and I look forward to the day when I can introduce him to the stories of his Tsagali ancestors. Their sacrifice is the very reason he and I are here.

The Rev. LaClaire Atkins grew up in St. James in Greenville, South Carolina, and served on the Diocesan Youth Leadership Committee for the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. She first came to know Kanuga through parish retreats while at St. James. She later attended Church Divinity School Of The Pacific and was ordained in 2020. LaClaire is a veteran summer guest period staffer, having run Baker programming for four summers. She joined Kanuga as Front Desk Associate in 2021.