Shore birds flock to seaside respite in Cape May

Posted: July 27, 2014

AT CAPE MAY Convention Hall last Sunday, the late-afternoon light came through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the main-stage auditorium, the ocean rippling in the glow, as the Rev. Jeffrey W. Elliott, pastor of Cape May Lutheran Church, led about three dozen casually dressed worshippers in prayer.

It was the midpoint of a summer series of Sunday vesper services conducted each week by a different pastor in a spirit of ecumenism by the churches of Cape May County.

"We're trying to promote the idea that we all believe in the same thing, but we just practice it in a different way," said the Rev. Rina Terry, pastor of Cape May United Methodist Church, who coordinates the weekly vespers.

"For vacationers who on Sunday morning may not want to take part of a vacation day to go to a traditional service, we feel this is a good alternative," she said. "You can come in off the beach if you want to."

Where we worship: Convention Hall is a monumental new seaside building at 714 Beach Ave. It hosts concerts and catered events like weddings, along with the summer worship series. Vespers are at 6 p.m. Sundays.

Over the past few decades, various groups have celebrated Sunday night vespers on and off around the "Exit 0" Shore town.

When the new Conventional Hall was built three years ago, Cape May Mayor Edward Mahaney, seeking more uses for the room with the great windows out to the ocean, asked local pastors to revive the tradition summerlong as yet another attraction for visitors.

How we worship: Sunday vesper services last from 30 to 45 minutes and usually include a homily or sermon, a few ecumenical prayers and a good helping of hymns. The one that Elliott led last Sunday also had a smattering of hand-clapping gospel-type music, with a choir, a soloist and an accompanying piano.

"We want to tailor it to fit the widest spectrum of people," he said.

Coming soon to the pulpit near the beach: These Cape May County congregations will lead vesper services during the next five weeks:

* Tomorrow: First Methodist of Avalon.

* Aug. 3: First Assembly of God.

* Aug. 10: Cape May United Methodist Church.

* Aug. 17: Macedonia Baptist.

* Aug. 24: First Presbyterian of Cape May.

One ocean, under God: Catholic and Episcopal priests have also led services this season. Though all the vesper services this summer are being led by Christian denominations, Elliott said the group is open to those from other spiritual or religious congregations.

"This, we feel, represents the values of the community, the diversity and plurality of religion here, and I think this is a statement the city itself is trying to make."

God is ... To Elliott, God is "the infinite intelligence who brought the universe into existence. This God is, for me, identical with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and enters into the universe in the three persons of the Trinity.

Big moral issue we're grappling with: At his own coastal congregation, one of the big ones is climate change. "So many of the world's environmental and security problems would be lessened if we used more wind energy and less oil," he said.

Words of hope ... As Elliott sees it, hope is based in courage. "In my experience, when courage fails, hope fails," he said. "As long as we can summon our courage to do the compassionate thing, hope will not fail."

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