NOTE: Elizabeth Horst was one of a group of young men and women who served as full-time Staff at the OPC’s Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, New Jersey, living and working there from June through August, 2014. Below, Elizabeth shares her reflections on her summer at the Chapel.
It is 3:20 PM on an ordinary July weekday at the Boardwalk Chapel. I stumble up from a rustic nap across three ancient chairs and walk barefoot across the boards to slump down on the closest bench. I glance back toward the Chapel. Our evangelism leader talks enthusiastically to a couple who stopped at the Heaven or Hell Machine and his faithful sidekick listens with a smile plastered on his face. Farther into the Chapel, music practice for the evening program continues. As the beautiful Jersey sun melts the fog of sleep around my brain, my mind picks up speed. Sleep covered for the day, the mental list is piled high—spend more time in prayer, cook supper for the staff while the house mother is away, memorize song lyrics for tonight’s program—and figure out what to do about our persistent friend from Angelo’s Pizza who is just about to throw a zeppola in my direction and summon in the hordes of seagulls!
Welcome to the Boardwalk at the Wildwoods of New Jersey, where the never-ending sights, sounds, and smells are enough to give anyone sensory overload. For a homegrown New York country gal, it took nearly a week before I was able to walk around without gaping or feeling a headache coming on. In time, however, the inescapable Wildwood charm successfully swept me off my feet, or the saltwater somehow found its way into my bloodstream. Either way, I had not been lured here by the boardwalk, the beach, or the bodies in various stages of nakedness. Instead, I arrived to carry a cross, to be a fisher of men, to walk in the footprints of Jesus, who was the first to tread the shores of a sea in order to seek and save the lost.
It was Jesus who led me and many others to the Boardwalk Chapel this summer, and it is only through His grace that the Chapel has been preserved, challenged, and expanded for the 70 years that it has stood here on the boards. The ministry has blessed countless people from all over the world, both saved and unsaved, and the Lord has sustained and grown many disciples within its walls. All this, and much more, I have been blessed to know firsthand, after only five months of knowing about this ministry, after only three months of living and working here full-time. (O Boardwalk Chapel, where have you been all my life?)
To adequately describe life as a disciple of Jesus within the ministry of the Boardwalk Chapel is a daunting task. It is best understood through participating in its daily activities, exhausting as they may be, for thereby our desperate need for the Spirit to move as He only can is increasingly evident. Here is a place where the Father’s glory shines, actually, without reducing glory to a cold or abstract theological concept. (Perish the thought!) Yes, here, the Son radiates because it is He alone who moved the world, the sun, the other stars—all for love.
Speaking as one who initially came to serve in order to forget the sorrows of a broken heart, I have seen, felt, and tasted love in a way I thought no longer possible. From our dedicated director whose eyes sparkle as he insists that the whole world is Italian and thus loveable, to the many who prevented me from crying alone in the darkness by offering me food and friendship repeatedly, love is present here in a very real and personal way. And how shall I respond to love but to love others in return—from the lost souls seeking satisfaction from that which does not satisfy, to the fellow believers rejoicing in the work that happens here summer after summer.
And though this season is over, the call to love continues at the Boardwalk Chapel all year round. Even after the staff members have said farewell and the boardwalk has quieted, the work is never finished. There are rooms with decades of accumulated junk to contend with, preparations to be made for the next season, unceasing prayers to be lifted up. The work of love often appears overwhelming, but love does not require a song and a dance. For when Love first walked among us, He came in humility, and He now reigns in glory to sustain all who follow Him. The Love that will not let us go is very present here at the Boardwalk Chapel, for it was He who loved us first and best, and it is He who shall carry us through to glory.