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Cape Cod church aims for balance in ministries to residents, tourists

CHATHAM, Mass. (BP)–David Otis accepted his first full-time pastorate, at Chatham Baptist Church, located at the elbow of Cape Cod, in November 1987. Growing up in Hartford, Conn., his family visited the peninsula for summer vacations that usually lasted a week. From those family gatherings in Welfleet and Eastham, he gained “a great love” for the easy pace of life and beautiful scenery on the Cape.
Otis, 57, was raised “a non-believing Episcopalian.” He came to faith in Christ as a result of Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa, Calif., where the Jesus movement started. Before becoming a pastor, Otis was a reporter for the Booth newspapers. He also wrote for the Los Angeles Times and Time magazine and had his own public relations and marketing business.
After returning from Southern California to Massachusetts and graduating from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1986 with a master of divinity degree, Otis felt God’s call to pastoral ministry in New England. He had not selected a denomination while in seminary, but he had attended some Greater Boston Baptist Association meetings.
A friend who was invited to speak at Chatham Baptist Church invited Otis and his wife, Judy, to attend the church, which had been without a pastor for about two years. Eventually, the congregation invited Otis to become its pastor, and now he is the longest-serving Southern Baptist leader on Cape Cod.
Although Chatham is known most of the year as a tranquil village by the sea with a quaint shop-lined Main Street and a much-photographed lighthouse, life speeds up considerably in the summers for Otis as Chatham mushrooms from some 5,000 residents to become a small city.
Otis calls Chatham “the epitome of a small New England town with all of its positives and negatives.” He observes “a pervasive attitude of independence in New England that is more focused on Cape Cod” than in other locations. The “independence and self-reliance” of residents and tourists alike yield special challenges for evangelism and church growth, the pastor said.
Evangelism takes place when people on the Cape “are in deep trouble” or cannot cope with life’s difficulties, Otis said. Even then, most people he meets “do not want to be dependent on Jesus Christ,” he said.
With little publicity to entice them, 30 or 40 visitors attend Chatham Baptist Church each Sunday in the summer, swelling the ranks of attendees to nearly 100. The roads around town are jammed every day and the peace of mind of the blue-collar church members is challenged by the influx of tourists.
Otis noted the contrast he sees this time of year between the visitors seeking relaxation — some attending worship already dressed for the beach — and the residents, who work harder in July and August under stressful circumstances than they do the rest of the year. The pastor tries each summer to “keep people plugged into” the church’s ministries and, simultaneously, show compassion to harried residents.
In January, to accommodate the schedules of its members, weekly Christian education ministry was moved from Sunday mornings to Wednesday nights. The non-traditional approach to “Sunday” school was done because “it was hard to get people to come on time” Sunday mornings, Otis said. The midweek activity begins with a church dinner.
Otis taught the “Experiencing God” discipleship series by Henry Blackaby for the first 13 weeks of the new Christian education program, which has attracted larger numbers of people than did the Sunday classes.
For many years, Otis and Chatham Baptist Church have tried to reach out with the gospel to the homosexuals who pervade life in Provincetown, Mass., a fishing village and arts community at the far end of Cape Cod.
Otis has led Bible study meetings there and has baptized two converts from the homosexual lifestyle. He’s led meetings there that were attended by homosexuals whose sole intention in attending was to disrupt the discussion. “Our biggest challenge there is in the spiritual realm,” the pastor said. “There is a formidable spiritual stronghold over Provincetown.”
Church members Aubrey and Donna Schuldt took early retirement and moved from upstate New York to the Cape last September when they experienced God’s call to minister in Provincetown. The couple is developing a local support team and making low-profile contacts for their ministry.
Chatham Baptist Church was started 21 summers ago by then-church planter Ray Allen , who now serves as the evangelism leader for the Baptist Convention of New England.
The church began when Allen knocked on the door of Bob and Eunice Griffin, the parents of Sue Beckner, whose husband, Mike, is pastor of Hope Baptist Church, Dennis.
To his surprise, Allen was ushered in to the Griffins’ home and grilled at length by a group of women who had been praying for some 10 years that a Bible-believing church would be started in Chatham. The church, first known as Lighthouse Baptist Chapel, was started from that cell group and was sponsored by First Baptist Church of Sudbury, Mass.

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  • Dan Nicholas