How do you get summer vacationers at the Shore to keep the faith? Bless their boats. – The Philadelphia Inquirer

Posted By on August 6, 2022

Sunbathers, bikers, and boaters were out and about, just like any other day down the Shore except on this recent Sunday, a small procession was making its way from the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Longport to the seawall across the street.

A young man in shorts carried a large metal cross and walked with a priest in vestments, a gaggle of congregants and a kilt-clad bagpiper playing America the Beautiful. As the church bell tolled, they looked out at the dozen boats bobbing in the bay.

Gods blessing upon you and upon the water that you ply, the Rev. Henry Hudson, a visiting chaplain via Selma, Ala., intoned through a megaphone to the gathered seacraft, including cruisers and Longport beach patrol rowboats, and jet skis. Raising his right hand, he read from Psalm 107:23-32, where God calms the stormy sea. May you stay safe upon the waters, and may you enjoy the beauty of all Gods creations. Amen.

Call it religion, Shore style. Along the Jersey coast, houses of worship offer special beachside programs to connect with the seasonal crowd. The mission: to keep faith a focal point amid the R&R.

For us, its an opportunity to engage the community around us, Hudson said. Its an informal moment, where the church can reach out into the lives of the people here and say, As you go, praise God, and give thanks to God for the beauty of the creation around you.

Early in his visits to the Longport church, the priest said he was asked to bless the bay and then boats. That seemed appropriate given that the 1908 Spanish-style church sits across from the waters and its stained-glass windows celebrate marine life (jellyfish, octopus, horseshoe crab). I thought, Jesus blessed boats. I can do that, Hudson said. Somewhere along the line, bikes were added to the lineup, and on this day, he wished safe travels for those on two wheels and in strollers.

Its a free insurance policy, said Lee Scanny, a retired union carpenter who lives in Linwood and attended the blessing from his 23-foot boat that he uses for fishing and cruising. Ive got through some lousy stuff in my boat, unexpected storms. Id like to think the Man Upstairs had something to do with that.

Church trustee Anne Peterson Martin, a Longport resident who helped organize the blessing, said Redeemerconsidered a summer sanctuaryis always looking for ways to bring the community into the church and the church into the community. Next year, she said, the plan is to take the priest to the boats on the bay for individual blessings.

Over in Ventnor at Shirat Hayam, a conservative and reform merged synagogue whose name means Song of the Sea, services move to the sandpit at South Newport Avenue and the Boardwalk for several Friday evenings through the season.

Theres no reason that worship has to be serious, Rabbi Jonathan Kremer said, adding that about 150 people attend, settling in beach chairs and partaking in prayer and song. Sometimes it should be. More often than not, it should be just joyful, calm joy, or maybe exuberant joy. At the beach, its more exuberant.

Ellen Glassman of Broomall is a weekend regular to Margate, where she and her husband have a home. We always say that Shabbat feels magical when your toes are in the sand and the seagulls are overhead and the waves are rushing in, she said.

For many coastal houses of worship, the outdoor rituals also offer a way to attract newcomers to the fold even if only for the summer months.

Chabad at the Shore in Ventnor sets up a tent to sell its challah bread, attracting a line 100 deep, said synagogue director Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport. On the side, theres a little stand where people could make a prayer and don a tefillin, he said of a ritual usually done inside the synagogue. By bringing all these traditions outside the building, it helps people know that we are here. Saturday services can attract 150 people, as much as five times the winter crowd.

Founded in 1869 as a Christian resort town for holy leisure, Ocean Grove has more than 100 outdoor religious programs at the towns Boardwalk Pavilion, according to Michael Badger, president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. That includes Lighthouse: Songs & Currents, Under the Umbrella Bible study, and many beach baptisms.

Much of Jesus history was on the waters edge, Badger said. People connect in places where they are on the edge, the edge of a mountain, the edge of the ocean. It opens them to the expanse of nature and opens the window of the soul to see God.

Sometimes, the Shores proximity proves an unexpected boon. People come from faraway places, from North Jersey, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Avinash Gupta, chairman of Siddhivinayak Temple USAs executive board said, adding visitors to the Hindu temple can triple in the summer weekends to as many as 100 people. They can take Gods blessing and at the same time visit Seaside Heights or Seaside Park. They have a dual attraction.

For Pastor Bill McGowan of Zion Lutheran Church in Barnegat Light, ministry at the water helps keep houses of worship vibrant.

On Fathers Day this year, he and other pastors, along with a rabbi, gathered dockside for the annual Blessing of the Fleet that took in a few dozen clamming and scalloping fishing boats, 60- to 80-footers. After the ritual, the scores of spectators get free boat rides through the inlet. Its a real community day, he said.

The church also holds services at the Bay Breeze Pavilion Sunday mornings as well as other Shore activities with a religious twist, including Blessings and Burgers for the local beach patrol and sunset worship services by the bay.

The secret is to always go out and spread the message, McGowan said. People have a lot of time constraints. Sometimes, when theyre on vacation, they have some extra time and find their way into church.

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How do you get summer vacationers at the Shore to keep the faith? Bless their boats. - The Philadelphia Inquirer

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