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New Horizons

Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, N.J.

Robert Y. Eckardt

The strum of a guitar echoes across the Boardwalk in the summer of 1969. A few teenagers from Covenant OPC in Vineland, New Jersey, who have once again made their weekly trip down to the Chapel on Thursday ("Vineland Night"), are singing "O Sinner Man." Frightened emotions in our hearts and earnest expressions on our faces mingle. A shout comes from among the hundreds that pass by in those few minutes: "You idiots! Sit down and shut up!" That's not the kind of reaction that self-conscious high schoolers want to hear, but we keep on singing:

O Sinner Man, where you gonna run to?
O Sinner Man, where you gonna run to?
O Sinner Man, where you gonna run to on that day?

Some time later in the evening, I am standing with the Chapel director, Len Chanoux, up on the stage. He says to me: "So you say you are a Christian, huh? What do you mean by that? What do you mean that you believe in Christ? Believe in him for what?" On and on the interrogation goes, the bright spotlight shining in my eyes. I can't see anyone out on the boards, but I know they are there.

After the program, we hand out tracts and try to talk to some of the people walking by. I remember only a few times that we got anywhere with anyone, but we tried, and the six to eight of us would pile in the car and travel back to Vineland, to return the next week.

Our youth group in those days was vibrant and fun. Led by Paul Patterson, an elder at Covenant Church and a teacher at Vineland High, we were willing to try anything. We were learning about the Bible and the meaning of our commitment to Christ, and living out that commitment this way. The trips to the Chapel were part of our lives.

This was not the only time in my life that I had experienced the Chapel. My family, while I was growing up with my brothers, Doug and Rich, went for a week nearly every summer while my dad, Robert W. Eckardt, pastoring in Wilmington, Delaware, preached every evening. We had the privilege of staying at the Kay House in North Wildwood the whole week, and we watched the seminary students and the pastors and the soloists, and Tommy Mullen on the organ, testify in that prior generation.

That earlier version of Chapel ministry included recordings of pastors talking and answering questions in the afternoon, Sunday evening showings of the black-and-white movie Martin Luther, and the welcoming motto "Come as you are, stay as long as you can, and leave when you must." I must say that the serious nature of the gospel was pressed upon my heart in those earlier years, listening to my dad presenting evangelistic messages, and I am sure that it was part of my conviction of the need to flee to Christ.

After I became a pastor, I wanted to share those experiences with my family, and so I asked Jon Stevenson, the director of Boardwalk Chapel, if I could come for a week during the summers of the nineties. This time we stayed in the apartment in the back of the chapel, and our three children got to witness the testimonies, the skits, the singing, and the preaching. Some things had changed, but much had stayed the same as we watched yet another generation come to minister on the boards. These days, there are summer assistants, seminary students who help lead and teach, college students who form the teams to lead the program every evening, and church youth groups. Pastors come with their families and learn again how important it is to spread the gospel to sinners. Pray for the ministry of Boardwalk Chapel. It provides a unique opportunity to share the gospel with thousands every summer.

The author is pastor of Redeemer OPC in Dayton, Ohio. New Horizons, December 2010.

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