It’s not unusual for congregations to bless pets in October and children’s backpacks (sometimes even the briefcases of professionals) at the beginning of a school year. But in the summer, a congregation in the West and another in the East gather to bless something entirely different.
In Ocean Beach (San Diego), Calif., St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Lutheran Church blesses surfboards and those who ride them. In Barnegat Light, N.J., Zion Lutheran Church participates in an annual Blessing of the Fleet: commercial and recreational boats.
“You want to bless what?” was the reaction at St. Peter’s when Jeff Cours and the evangelism committee brought up the idea last year. “Many members are transplants, born and raised in the Midwest, and blessing surfboards and surfers is a little outside their range of experience,” Cours explained.
But as committee member Jamie Foley, who was the driving force for making Cours’ idea happen, said, “Ocean Beach has a huge surfing community, and we wanted to reach that part of the community we see every day but don’t necessarily interact with.”
Surfers drive by the church, and park nearby. They have a reputation for taking up parking spots and discarding the gallon jugs that held water to wash sand off their feet, Foley said. But at the same time, locals are aware of how dangerous the popular spot is to surf — access to and from the ocean is via a nearby cliff, not a sandy beach.
“We just wanted them to know ‘We’re here and we think about you, we invite you and welcome you,’ ” Foley said. “Even if they didn’t come, that’s how we felt.”
But they did come after the congregation advertised in surf and coffee shops, and via publications and Facebook. Foley, a local surfer now working as a nurse in Minot, N.D., also used some of her broken surfboards as props, attaching signs to them.
The evangelism committee chose a Saturday afternoon when the tide was high. Karen Marohn, pastor, blessed surfers and surfboards, many still in their vehicles but circling back through the parking lot once they realized what was going on.
One woman carefully carried over three boards, all clearly prized possessions. Another brought her scuba gear. “The first surfer of the day gratefully received the blessing and offered his own prayer for the pastor and the church,” Cours said.
Surfers also received a small card that included the church’s website address and 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be alert, stand firm in the faith; be brave, be strong. Do all you do in love.”
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© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers