How do you get summer vacationers on the coast to keep the faith? Bless their boats.

Sunbathers, cyclists and boaters were out and about, just like any other day on the coast – except this last Sunday, a small procession made 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 robed priest, a crowd of parishioners, and a kilt-clad bagpiper playing “America the Beautiful.” As the church bell rang, they looked out at the dozen boats bobbing in the bay.

“God’s blessings on you and on the water you navigate,” Rev. Henry Hudson, a visiting chaplain in Selma, Alabama, intoned through a bullhorn to the assembled craft, including cruisers, Longport Beach Patrol rowboats and jet skis. He raised his right hand and read from Psalm 107:23-32 where Jesus calms the stormy sea. “May you stay safe on the waters and enjoy the beauty of all God’s creations. Amen.”

Call it religion, Shore style. Along the Jersey shore, places of worship offer special beach programs to engage with seasonal crowds. The mission: to keep faith at the heart of R&R.

“For us, it’s an opportunity to engage with the community around us,” Hudson said. “It’s an informal moment for the church to step into the lives of people here and say, ‘As you go, praise God and thank God for the beauty of creation around you.'”

At the beginning of his visits to Longport Church, the priest said he had been asked to bless the bay and then the boats. That seemed appropriate as the 1908 Spanish-style church faces the water and its stained glass windows celebrate marine life (jellyfish, octopus, horseshoe crab). “I thought, ‘Jesus blessed boats. I can do that,'” Hudson said. Bikes were added to the lineup somewhere along the line, and on that day he wished safe journeys for those on two wheels – and in strollers.

“It’s a free insurance policy,” said Lee Scanny, a retired carpenter who lives in Linwood and attended the blessing from his 23-foot boat that he uses for fishing and cruising. “I’ve survived some lousy stuff in my boat, unexpected storms. I’d like to think the man upstairs had something to do with it.”

Church trustee Anne Peterson Martin, a Longport resident who helped organize the blessing, said Redeemer — which is considered a summer sanctuary — is always looking for ways to “bring the church into the church and the church into the church.” “. Next year, she said, the plan is to take the priest to the boats in the bay for individual blessings.

Over in Ventnor at Shirat Hayam, a Conservative and Reformed synagogue whose name means Song of the Sea, services are moved to the sandbox on South Newport Avenue and the Boardwalk on several Friday nights during the season.

“There is no reason worship has to be serious,” Rabbi Jonathan Kremer said, adding that about 150 people are in attendance, settling in beach chairs and participating in prayer and song. “Sometimes it should be like that. Most of the time it should just be joyful, quiet joy, or maybe exuberant joy. It’s more boisterous on the beach.”

Ellen Glassman, from Broomall, is a regular weekend visitor 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 places of worship, the outdoor rituals also provide a way to attract newcomers to the community — if only for the summer months.

Chabad at the Shore in Ventnor is setting up a tent to sell its challah bread and attracting a line 100 deep, synagogue director Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport said. “There’s a little booth on the side where people could pray and put a tefillin on,” he said of a ritual usually performed in the synagogue. “By bringing all of these traditions outside of the building, it helps people know we’re here.” Saturday services can draw 150 people, five times the winter crowd.

According to Michael Badger, president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, Ocean Grove was founded in 1869 as a Christian “sacred leisure” resort and offers more than 100 outdoor religious programs at the city‘s Boardwalk Pavilion. These include Lighthouse: Songs & Currents, Under the Umbrella Bible Study, and many beach baptisms.

“Much of Jesus’ story took place at the water’s edge,” Badger said. “People connect where they stand at the edge of a mountain, at the edge of the ocean. It opens them to the vastness of nature and opens the soul’s window to see God.”

Sometimes the proximity of the coast turns out to be an unexpected blessing. “People are coming from far away places, from North Jersey, Philadelphia, Connecticut,” said Avinash Gupta, executive chairman of the Siddhivinayak Temple in the US, adding that the number of visitors to the Hindu temple on summer weekends is up to can triple to 100. “You can receive God’s blessings and visit Seaside Heights or Seaside Park at the same time. You have a double attraction.”

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

On Father’s Day that year, he and other pastors, along with a rabbi, gathered at the docks for the annual blessing of the fleet, which included a few dozen clapping and scalloped 60- to 80-foot fishing boats. After the ritual, the numerous spectators are given free boat rides around the bay. “It’s a real community day,” he said.

The church also holds Sunday morning services in the Bay Breeze Pavilion, as well as other waterfront activities with a religious twist, including blessings and burgers for the local beach patrol and sunset services on the bay.

“The secret is to always go out and spread the word,” McGowan said. “People are under a lot of time pressure. Sometimes when they are on vacation they have a little more time and find their way to church.”

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