"Once a king or queen in Narnia," Pastor Jim Zozzaro quipped as we stood around a makeshift dining table in a dingy screened-in back patio for our Friday night debrief. "Everyone who visits is forever part of the Chapel family."
And so it has felt to me. For five years, the Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, New Jersey has been a second home; and the diverse group of teens & adults who've made the 13-hour journey to the Jersey shore with me has been a second family. It's so refreshing to step away from the demands of my normal life for a bit to devote energy to prayer, God's word, instruction, street evangelism, and time with my students. Definitely doesn't qualify as a relaxing summer vacation, but I wouldn't trade it for anything!
Wildwood is as close to an incarnation of Vanity Fair from Pilgrim's Progress as I've encountered. Surrounded by colorful, noisy distractions of the beach, food, souvenirs, roller coasters, swimwear, and crowds of people out to have a good time, to say the Chapel stands out is an understatement. This year, our group visited during the summer staff's apologetics training week, sitting in on 30+ hours of lectures on heavy topics like the rules of logic, the Apostle's Creed, and the problem of evil. Even then, the Chapel door is wide open and Pastor Jim's voice is amplified so people walking by might glean a little something, or better yet, stop and listen.
One element of the BWC's ministry that is unique in the OPC and has allowed me to exercise my creative talents is their nightly program; basically a variety show that uses music and drama as segues for the Gospel to be broadcast to thousands of passers by every summer weeknight. But for me, the real personal challenge was after each program, when evangelism teams wander the boardwalk looking for opportunities to strike up spiritual conversations with complete strangers, and prayer teams huddle to worship and pray together. I'm far more comfortable saying anything on a stage behind a microphone than in a face-to-face interaction. And yet, especially on nights I felt the least qualified or prepared, God graciously provided both the words to speak and the courage to speak them, proving that He alone gets the glory for all my efforts!
To borrow another Narnia reference, in The Silver Chair, Aslan gives a warning: "Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly; I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken..." Like most short-term mission trips, a week at the Boardwalk Chapel is like a booster shot of spiritual energy or a spark of spiritual flame; and when I leave there is always this fear that going back to the "real world" will dull that sense of urgency and excitement for evangelism and discipleship. Every year our group prays that God would turn that spark into a fire in our hearts that burns long after we've left. God is answering that prayer in students coming to saving faith, starting Bible studies & prayer groups, joining the Chapel's summer staff, evangelizing on their own city streets, writing hymns, overcoming the fear of praying out loud, repenting of sinful behaviors, reconciling with family members, getting involved in church life, heading to Bible college, and investing in spiritual friendships. And He's answered it in my life, too, making me more comfortable integrating my faith into daily conversation and giving me deep relationships with people I met through the Chapel. To call them a second family doesn't do it justice; we are a real, eternal, spiritual family, united by God's redeeming grace and growing in love and grace together as we head toward our heavenly home.
I would encourage every person reading this, regardless of age, life circumstances, or spiritual gifts, to visit the Boardwalk Chapel sometime and see what God might want to teach you there!
The Chapel has already begun booking groups for the 2022 summer season. Go to their website for more information: The Boardwalk Chapel.
The author is the youth group leader for Covenant OPC, Orland Park, IL.
© 2022 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church