A boardwalk pavilion at Sunken Meadow State Park on the north shore of Long Island is the site for a unique summer Bible study that draws members from numerous congregations of the Metropolitan New York Synod. The Beach Bible Study began as a summer ministry of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Huntington Station in 2001. It's continued for fourteen years, expanding recently to invite leaders and participants from throughout the Western Suffolk Conference.
Jackie Scappaticci, a member of Gloria Dei, has been attending for eight years. "I was invited by another member of our church," she says, "and at the risk of sounding a bit corny, I find it so meaningful to sit on the boardwalk, listening to Bible verses and imagining Jesus preaching by the Sea of Galilee. It’s very spiritual for me, so very special." Jackie also notes how she’s enjoyed seeing people walking the boardwalk also stop, sit and listen for a while, and return the next week. "I know new friendships have developed, and I like how we’ve grown from the handful coming in the early years."
This year’s study averaged over 30 participants from eight different congregations and examined a variety of faith traditions over a nine week study led by four conference pastors: Joel Brandt, Harry Schenkel, Bob Schoepflin, and James Watrud. Studies on the beach in prior years have included discussions of weekly lectionary texts, an Old or New Testament theme, or even a whole book of the Bible. But more than the topics of discussion, participants seem to enjoy seeing their pastors out of the church setting, in casual beach attire, in relaxed and fun conversation. And usually the weather cooperates, though participants have joked about a reprise of the "Ten Plagues of Exodus" when high humidity and swarms of mosquitoes interrupt a lesson, or a sudden storm brings high waves crashing on the sand. Still, week after week the people come.
"I love it!" says Doris Meyer, a new participant this year from Abiding Presence, Fort Salonga, who found out about the study from her church bulletin. "It makes you feel so much closer to God – to study the Bible, not in a church building made with human hands, but under God’s blue sky where you can feel the breeze, see the ocean, touch the grains of sand, and know that God has put it all there. It’s wonderful!"
The Beach Bible study always includes a brief Eucharist and lively discussion in a beautiful setting, and even adds a "church potluck" at the final session. When a passerby stops by the pavilion to find out what is happening, someone invariably replies, "Big things happen here." "We count ourselves blessed to be part of this unusual ministry," says Janet Hitschler.