“The Boardwalk Chapel”
Possibly penned in 1954
Story discovered by Arthur Fox, friend of the Chapel
Edited minimally for better readability
The Boardwalk Chapel, which was formerly known as the Boardwalk Pavilion, is situated on the boardwalk in the coastal city of Wildwood, NJ, which is about four miles north of Cape May.
Rev. Leslie Dunn deserves the credit as its founder, as it was the result of his inspiration and self-sacrificing efforts that finally culminated in the erection of the Chapel. It really is a testimony to answered prayer and a good illustration of the way God works in and through man to carry out His plans. So while we give Mr. Dunn the credit which is due him, from a theological viewpoint, we might more aptly say that his inspiration came from God, from whence cometh the inspiration for every good and perfect thing, and he was merely the instrument in carrying out God’s plans.
In 1941, when Rev. Dunn accepted his pastorate at Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wildwood, even before the idea of the Chapel had manifested itself, he did sense the need of a gospel testimony along the boardwalk. So that summer, he and three other fundamentalist pastors from the city combined their efforts and held meetings every Saturday and Sunday evening on the sands below the boardwalk.
These meetings were not very successful due to too many distractions caused by the crowd, the pounding of the surf, etc. so that it was difficult to make themselves heard. The ministers decided that the following summer they would try to find a more suitable location on the boardwalk itself, and this would have been necessary, anyway, because in December of that year, America entered the Second World War, and there was a great curtailment of activities at the shore. Anyone visiting the shore during the war years will remember that the boardwalks were screened with a heavy canvass for the entire length in order that the lights would not aid enemy ships and submarines.
During the summer of 1942, permission was granted for the meetings to be held in the American Legion Pavilion. They proved to be of very short duration, however, because the theatre owner across the street complained that they were distracting to his business. Since he owned the title deed, it was very easy to have their permission revoked.
After prayerful searching, another location was found nearer to the center of town, but this building was also owned by the theatre owner. However, he willingly gave his consent for the free use of it for services every Saturday and Sunday evening during the summer, as it had not been rented to a concessionaire due to the war. Some very effective meetings were held there during the remainder of the season.
In 1944, the war restrictions were lifted and more people visited the shore. Consequently, the building which they had been occupying free of charge was now offered to a concessionaire at a rental of $1700 for the season. Realizing that this figure was out of the question, Mr. Dunn began to see the need for a building of their own in which these meetings could be held.
There were other drawbacks that year in addition to building problems, as each of the three pastors with whom he had been associated seemed to have personal reasons why they could not participate in the services that year. So that summer, Mr. Dunn spent mostly in personal surveys, and he handed out over 20,000 pieces of literature on the boardwalk that year. After making these surveys, it seemed only natural for Mr. Dunn to seek counsel and financial aid from the pastors with whom he had been associated. In words of the vernacular, he received a cold shoulder, as each of these three pastors informed him that they were in no position whatsoever to join in any project which involved the raising of money to buy or build a chapel along the boardwalk.
Even this rebuff did not dampen his ardor, nor swerve him from his purpose, but brought him to a fuller realization that if a chapel were to be built, that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church would have to take the initiative and establish it. He began making surveys of available lots along the boardwalk, and finally concentrated on the one which later became the site of the Chapel. He found that between 2500 and 3000 people passed that lot every hour between 7 and 11PM on any pleasant summer evening. What a marvelous opportunity to spread the gospel!
At City Hall, he learned that the lot could be purchased at public auction providing the minimum sale price of $1500 could be guaranteed in advance. After gaining consent of the trustees of Calvary Church, the lot was offered for sale at auction late in August . It was largely attended, as it had been noised around that a church wished to purchase the property, and several of the boardwalk business men were out in full force hoping to prevent it, as they were afraid the Chapel would ruin their business. These lots were usually sold for $3000 to $4000 at auction.
The bidding was brisk until it reached $2500, then, perhaps because the opposition felt that the church would not bid higher, it slowed down a little. However, it continued in increments of $50 each, until $2900 was reached. Mr. Dunn had been authorized to bid as high as $3000, so when he bid $2950, he realized that he had made his last bid, and he prayed fervently that God would permit the bidding to cease there if it were His purpose to establish a gospel testimony on the boardwalk. Apparently, it was His purpose, because the bidding ceased, and the auctioneer announced that the lot had been sold to Mr. Dunn.
It was very difficult for the opposition to admit defeat, and one of the men, an unbelieving Jew, approached Mr. Dunn and offered to purchase the lot at a higher figure than he had paid for it, telling him that he and his associates would help to build a very fine church for him if he would only consider a lot two or three blocks back of the boardwalk. Mr. Dunn turned a deaf ear to his proposition.
Then the second man approached him and said that he felt that [Dunn] was stuck with the lot, and that the church would never be able to pay the purchase price, and that the church would never be able to raise enough money to erect a building on it which would meet the requirements of the building code.
But, as Mr. Dunn pointed out, those men were not familiar with Almighty God with whom all things are possible, because six months after the purchase of the lot, sufficient funds were on hand to pay for it in full. Not only that, but when the Chapel was still a little less than nine years old, and the complete cost of the building, which was around $11,000 has been entirely met, with the exception of about $500 on original loans, which proves conclusively that God is able far above all that we ask or think.
As I read this story, I was very much impressed, and felt that with our own building program under advisement, that it might serve as an inspiration to us to see how God does meet us more than halfway when we are reasonably certain that our plans are in accordance with His will, and that He will meet every need, if we exercise a little faith.
However, this is my own personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect that of my sponsors, which in this case is the Woman’s Missionary Society. To me, this little history seemed to be a wonderful manifestation of God’s power in the way He works in and through individuals to carry out His purposes. Although Satan threw one adversity after another in the path and, even in the face of defeat, made two final attempts to thwart the plan by bribery and discouragement, God emerges victorious and the Chapel becomes a reality in less than a year’s time, which is a wonderful testimony to answered prayer.
As I stated before, the lot was purchased in August 1944 and work was started in May 1945, and the dedication service was held in the partially unfinished building on July 1, 1945. The approximate cost of the building was $11,000 and this indebtedness has been completely paid, with the exception of about $500 in original loans.
After the purchase of the lot, the Presbytery of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church agreed to sponsor the project through its Committee on boardwalk work. Rev. Leslie Dunn, who is now pastor of Grace OP Church in Westfield, NJ, has been the Executive Director since the beginning and Rev. Everett DeVelde of Vineland, NJ, has been Chairman of the Committee. This Committee has charge of engaging the pastors for the summer season, as well as the Director of the Chapel, the pianist, and as many of the personnel as needed to carry on the work.
To give you a little idea of the building itself, I should say roughly that it is about twice the size of this room. It seats 175 conveniently, although 200 have been seated on special occasions. The interior of the building might be classed as a diamond in the rough, as it is still in its natural state, with board walls and 2X4 studding. However, the walls in the back of the pulpit have been finished, and the Committee hopes to cover the walls of the auditorium with knotty pine in the very near future. All along the two sides of the auditorium, racks have been constructed for holding religious books, and literature of various kinds, which are sold for a nominal sum, the proceeds of which goes toward the support of the Chapel.
The front of the building consists of four large folding doors, which are opened wide for every service. There is an amplifier near the door which attracts the attention of the crowd, as well as an admatic machine in the form of a wheel which revolves and shows colored slides of the Chapel and the work being done which is also quite a drawing feature. There is an attractive white cross outside, blue sailcloth curtains are hung at the windows from Mrs. Phil Spooner, and a mural at the back of the auditorium provided by Mr. Clowney. There is a piano and small organ in the auditorium, but the piano is given the preference. A regular pianist is engaged each year for the entire season. This year’s budget includes $150 for the pianist.
In the rear of the chapel there are three apartments. On the main floor is the one room and lavatory apartment for the pianist, and an apartment with two bedrooms and a kitchen which is reserved for the visiting pastor and his family. Upstairs, there is an apartment suitable for the Director and his family. On the main floor, there is a screened back porch, and a parking area in the rear of the building. There are no rentals for these apartments but I believe it is customary for the departing guests to leave a small contribution toward the work of the Chapel as a token of their appreciation.
The maintenance cost of the Chapel is about $2000 a year, of which $1500 is spent on operating costs, and the balance on upkeep, etc. Note: There are several repairs to be made this year which are absolutely essential, such as new doors on the front, and a walk alongside the Chapel from the boardwalk to the apartments, and a few other things such as new mattresses for the beds and insulation in the upstairs bedrooms to keep out the excessive heat and to make the apartments more comfortable and attractive.
[The Chapel] is supported by contributions from friends, by collections taken during the meetings, and by gifts from the Orthodox Presbyterian churches. There are no endowments or large gifts. Last year, the offerings amounted to $800 and contributions made up the rest of the budget. Note: This year they have increased their budget to the necessity of making repairs, etc. Emmanuel Church, as well as the Woman’s Missionary Society, include the Chapel in their budget every year. Last year, the Sunday School gave between $15 and $20. The Machen League gave $5. The Summer Bible School contributed $25.90. The Church benevolence fund gives 5% of its contributions to the chapel, which last year amounted to $41.25. The Woman’s Missionary Society contributed $30 besides an additional gift of $5, which made a total of approximately $127.15 from Emmanuel Church. The Woman’s Missionary Society has increased the amount in its budget to $35 for the coming year, making an increase of $5 over the previous year.
The Chapel maintains a rather full schedule from about the middle of June until the middle of September. Last year, the Director was Rev. Arthur Spooner, but a new one must be found for this year. I believe this is the position for which Mr. Price was selected. I’m not quite certain whether or not the Director has received a salary heretofore, but this year’s budget includes $500 for a Director and his assistant.
The Daily Schedule carried on at the Chapel is more or less as follows [The one I am quoting was for the 1953 season]:
10:30AM Children’s Bible hour [Mon through Friday during July and August]
The year that I was a guest at the Chapel, Mrs. Price had charge of the Children’s Hour and Mr. Price was the Director of Music.
In the evening from
8-9:15 PM Hymn Singing, Sacred Music, Gospel Messages.
9:15-10:30PM Special features such as question and answer periods, interviews, forums and quizzes and religious pictures.
The Sunday program varies a little, beginning with
10AM Sunday School for youths
11AM Adult Bible Class
4PM Young People’s meeting
7:30 Worship of Calvary Church
8:45 Hymn Sing
The schedule is planned so that a new pastor supplies the pulpit each week. On the Saturday evening marking our arrival, Rev. Churchill from Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, was just completing his week, and Rev. Marcelius Kik arrived from Canada shortly after our arrival to take up his duties for the coming week. These pastors give their services gratis, but they are given a small remuneration for traveling expenses.
A film is shown about once a week, and a great many of them are Moody Science films. “Dust or Destiny” was shown the year we were there. Religious slides are shown every night after the conclusion of the services. Mr. Dunn had charge of this work while he was in Wildwood and he often labored until 11PM, showing the slides and giving the gospel message as long as the crowd showed interest.
Occasionally, the evening meeting includes a guest speaker, in addition to the visiting pastor. Some evenings include special music, both instrumental and vocal. Frequently, a group of young people from Rev. DeVelde’s church in Vineland come over to the beach for bathing in the afternoon and a beach supper, and they remain for the evening service. They are often called upon for personal testimonies or to participate in the musical program, either vocal or instrumental, or both.
Services are held every evening during the summer from the middle of June to the middle of September. The meetings are fairly well attended, and a number of regular attendants are seen in the audience each night. However, the audience changes frequently, as many pause while passing, as they are attracted by the music, the speaker, the films, the admatic, etc. The pastor always extends a warm invitation for the crowd to come in and be seated. Some accept, and remain for a while and then others take their places, and this continues until the doors close around 11PM. (Due to the charging audience the collection plate is passed two or three times during the evening so as not to miss anyone!)
Since about three thousand persons pass the chapel doors each evening, it is estimated that at least one thousand hear some part of the gospel every evening. The Chapel might be likened to that of the parable of the sower: they sow the seeds, but the harvest may not come until later. There have not been as many conversions as were hoped for when the Chapel was established, which perhaps is due to the public nature of the place.
There have been some very outstanding preachers there used to doing evangelistic work, and still the response had been slim. Mr. Dunn feels that more is accomplished by direct contacts after the meeting than in any other way. Also by engaging men in personal discussions during the day when they stop to ask questions. However, there have been some real conversions there. Ed Haug, whom some of you may know, was converted at Wildwood. He was Superintendent of Sunday School in East Orange, and spoke at the SS Association Dinner in 1953. Ed Urban is another convert. He was a United Presbyterian, and attending one of their colleges, when he went to Wildwood one summer to take a job as his driver for the season. He went around to the Chapel one night, and after talking with Mr. Dunn he became interested in the Reformed Faith and he is now a student at Westminster Seminary, and expects to assist Mr. Dunn this summer. Bob Lucas, who was not a convert of Wildwood but a graduate of Westminster class of 1953, expects to spend quite a bit of time around the chapel this year.
If you will pardon a personal reference, I believe that the seed for my own conversion was started at the Chapel. It necessitated a fractured instep to bring it about, but God works in mysterious ways, His mysteries to perform. While there, I was greatly stirred by Rev. Kik’s messages, as he gave some excellent monologues, but it was some two years later before the seeds bore fruit, as it was about a year after he had conducted Evangelistic services here in our church, and I heard his sermon on “The Great Trial” that the light of truth began to dawn on me, and I decided to acknowledge Christ as my personal Saviour.
So viewing the work of the Chapel for the past nine years, it is felt that God has blessed its ministry, as there have been conversions, and there have been weak Christians made strong. The ministry continues at the Chapel because they feel it is their solemn duty to sow the seed, and that God will give the increase.
I will close with an excerpt from an article written by Mr. Dunn in which he says, and I quote, “When it is remembered that the operating costs of the Chapel for one season are under $2000, it is cause to offer heartfelt praise to God for this effectual open door for evangelism at such low cost. A thousand might hear the gospel, 90 nights the doors are open, 65 of which nights the crowds are really there in multitude. What church, or what church organization, can do as much with $2000? Of the 3000 persons passing the Chapel each night in July and August, how many will be attracted to stop and listen to the only thing that is able to save their souls and make them truly happy? That may depend to some extent on what we do to help provide adequate personnel to staff the chapel, equipment to carry it to them, accompaniments to beautify the Chapel that the message may be recommended to the passerby in a dignified way; additional comforts for the men who come to preach or to conduct the work there. And most of all, the results of reaching many of that vast multitude with the gospel may depend largely on our united and faithful prayers to the Lord of the harvest to give a rich increase.”