In our travels we often will go and sit in on a daily Sunday mass at a catholic church, or stand outside the window of a Methodist or Anglican church and hear what the pastor has to say. It never fails to amaze us at how religious and devoted Bahamians are to their various religions. On our bus ride the previous day, we drove past the Catholic church in Georgetown, noticing how small it was in comparison to the Anglican and Baptist churches, and made a mental note about the time of the Sunday service.
But this Sunday as I listened to the cruiser’s net, they announced that “Beach Church” would be at 9:30 at Volleyball Beach. They mentioned that Beach Church was nondenominational and everyone was welcome. Well, that was invitation enough for me to forgo the Catholic service and find out what Beach Church was all about. Billy opted to stay on the boat and troubleshoot our refrigeration system which is a huge suspect for sucking up our battery power. So, at 9:15, dressed in my Sunday best, (a wrinkled skirt and tank top, no shoes) I hopped into the dinghy and headed for the beach. Many other dinghies were also crossing the huge harbor, headed for the tie up area on Volleyball Beach. As I walked up the beach, I noticed everyone was also dressed in their “Sunday-going-to-church” clothes, and most were also barefoot. I took a picture, and sat down on a bench where a beautifully bound song book was waiting for me.
Georgetown’s Beach Church was formed by cruisers many years ago, and in 2000 it became a real incorporated church. I read their mission statement, and found it totally agreeable with what I believe, or struggle to believe when it comes to religion. And then the service started.
Someone rang a ship’s bell and all chatter stopped. A smiling man stepped to the podium, which was a trash barrel and a piece of plywood covered with a table cloth bearing a cross, obviously made with loving hands. On top of this sat a podium made of driftwood and a real live microphone which was attached to a speaker system. Below the mike, and facing the congregation, was a book shelf with several different bibles and inspirational books. Music playing cruisers stood by; two guitarists, a keyboardist, and a flutist. I found out later that the flutist had sailed with her husband and son through the night to make it to Beach Church. There was a choir made up of about 20 people. In the branches of the huge casuarinas pine tree we all sat under was a young boy. Other children either sat quietly with their parents or played in the sand.
Officiating the mass was a cruiser dressed in a Hawaiian shirt. Bearing a huge smile,he greeted us all and the service began. First was a welcoming song, and then blessings. Newcomers were asked to introduce themselves. It was fun to listen to the rivalry between the Canadians and the Americans, and what side of the “lakes” they are from. Then our pastor made a comparison of a “regular” church to “Beach Church”. He said, “Most churches have a steeple. Here at Beach Church the all casuarinas trees are our steeple. Most churches have stained glass windows. Here at Beach Church, we look and see the many azure colors of the ocean and sky, the greens of the grasses, palms and pines, and the white of the sand, and this is our stained glass window. ..” I was so enthralled with this I forgot what he said much, but he wasn’t the type of person who preached just because he liked to hear himself talk. His words made me feel truly blessed to be sitting on the sand with people I had never met.
There was a lot of singing and the songs were simple and friendly. No one was bothered that I sang along. My heart felt lifted, and I in my mind I considered my voice operatic. Church is the only place I am ever allowed to sing without upsetting anyone. I was glad Billy and my children weren’t there to give me an elbow jab.
The mass continued with more of the beautiful songs from the songbook. The choir director mentioned more than once what fond memories each song brought to him; his grandmother sang this one each day until the day she died or “this was a favorite of mine as a young child at my church”. He didn’t mention with what denomination he was raised.
The cruisers are the ones who formed this church, therefore they take turns sharing the various duties. The biggest duty was to deliver the Sunday Sermon. A woman named Toni happily stepped up to deliver her homily, and I was so touched and inspired by her words I had tears in my eyes. Everyone sat attentive as she spoke; the only sound was the whisper of the palm trees and the huge pines we sat under. Even the children stood rapt, listening.
Another song or two and the mass was over. We were invited to share the thermoses of coffee someone had donated (if you brought your own cup.) Several cruisers had baked cookies and pastries. Everyone crowded around the food table, happy to be together. The young boy in the tree, the “official head counter” told us that there were 131 people in attendance.
I was taught at a very young age that you don’t need a physical building to be a church, to be a church. If the Catholic church in my hometown burned down tomorrow, I would still have a church when the members congregate anywhere they could, held hands and prayed. Yesterday, I found a church, and it made me feel welcome, at peace, and gave me a sense of belonging. There was no roof and no walls, the ceiling was the sky and the floor was sand. I was with a group of people who live on their boats for the same reason I do. We have a lust for wandering and exploration. We love the sound of the wind as it fills our sails during the day, and howls over us as we lay swinging on anchor at night. We love the taste of salt water and the spray of the sea as we move from island from island. We are camping on water.
I struggle with religion, but at Beach Church I felt a sense of God and felt loved and comforted. For the rest of the day I felt very much at peace. Throughout the day, either as we walked on the beach or just sat on the boat, I told Billy a certain bits I remembered about the mass at Beach Church. Every little memory put a smile on my face as I shared it with him. I think he regretted not coming when he saw how happy and at ease I was. We might stick around for next Sunday’s Beach Church gathering.