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Intellectual climate, retirees, youth among Cape Cod church’s challen

SOUTH DENNIS, Mass. (BP)–Many of the 55,000 year-round Cape Cod residents who live near Hope Baptist Church, South Dennis, have moved to the land of endless beaches and fresh seafood to escape the pressures of urban life and discover the carefree joys of living in one of America’s most popular tourist destinations.
Mike Beckner, who planted Hope Baptist in September 1996, has observed that about half of his neighbors are retirees who “picked Cape Cod, generally speaking, to be left alone.” The pastor said they are “intellectual, high-powered people who have made up their minds about how life is” and, therefore, are not usually open to evangelistic outreach efforts.
“When people are in transition, they’re more receptive” to the gospel, Beckner said, comparing the Cape Cod ministry to his previous ministry as pastor of Atlantic Shore Baptist Church, Virginia Beach, Va., where many Navy families are in temporary situations.
By contrast, Beckner said when residents of Cape Cod are confronted with a biblical message of salvation, “They have to decide that their life was misspent” by not being committed to Christ. Many of the residents of Dennis, Harwich and Yarmouth where Hope Baptist ministers “do not want to intellectually contend with the truth” as taught by the Bible, he observed.
The Cape Codders Beckner has met are reluctant to travel a few miles to worship, but they will drive “off Cape” to shop in Boston. The church meets Sunday mornings for worship in the lower level of the Dennis Senior Center and currently has 40 regular attendees. The senior center is rented for $625 a year. Half of the congregation are retirees and the others are either young families or singles. New Colony Baptist Church, Billerica, Mass., is the sponsoring congregation.
Operating out of a rented facility one day a week has some disadvantages for the church, such as low visibility in the community. To counter this situation, Beckner and the church members are looking for a storefront in which to conduct weekday ministries for mid-Cape youth who currently do not have anywhere to “hang out.”
Attesting to the need for such a youth ministry, Beckner said there have been a dozen alcohol-related traffic deaths of teens on the Cape since 1996. Beckner is praying for a semester missionary or volunteer staffer who can establish relationships with teens at basketball courts, beaches and other public places.
Hope Baptist held an evangelistic concert June 26 at Johnny Kelley Park, South Dennis, with some 50 friends and neighbors bringing picnic baskets and listening to a blend of traditional and contemporary gospel music performed by 11 summer missionaries from Oklahoma.
Beckner and his wife, Sue, are experienced Cape Codders. She was born and raised on the Cape. Her parents were among the earliest members of Chatham Baptist Church and today they assist with music and prayer at Hope Baptist.
The pastor, who was born in New London,, Conn., graduated in 1973 from Dennis-Yarmouth High School. After being raised as the son of a Roman Catholic mother and a Southern Baptist father, Beckner found a personal faith in Christ in 1971 while a high school junior attending a youth retreat on Cape Cod at Craigville Beach.
Beckner later attended Holy Cross College, Worcester, Mass., graduating in 1977 with a political science degree. After serving as a U.S. Navy officer, Beckner earned a master of education and human development degree from George Washington University, Washington., D.C. He also received a master of arts in religion degree from Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va.
The Cape Cod ministry has been “rigorous and challenging … everything we imagined it to be and more,” Beckner said. The couple decided not to have bivocational careers that would draw their attention from the ministry. Instead, they are supported entirely by contributions from some 40 friends who give $50 a month and receive ministry updates.
“Even with all of the challenge, we haven’t given up on the fact that we know Jesus can reach these people,” Beckner reflected.
In addition to preparing sermons, visiting church prospects and doing the long list of tasks that any pastor faces, Beckner, 44, has been encouraging the innovative ministry of two active church members. Ron and Melinda Powers of Dennisport, since attending a resort ministry workshop at the Baptist Convention of New England Empower ‘99 conference in April, have been planning a “lemonade ministry” this summer at West Dennis Beach.
Powers distributes free, ice-cold lemonade to sunbathers on hot Saturdays and uses the inevitable conversations that begin to point people to Jesus Christ. Before his thirsty guests depart, Powers, who became a Christian in 1992, distributes a Gospel of John tract and information about his church.
Initially, Powers faced opposition to the ministry by the Dennis Beach and Recreation Department, over a possible violation of their concession and solicitation laws. At the Empower ‘99 seminar, Powers said he learned otherwise. As long as the lemonade stand does not have a sign on the public property and he does not charge for the beverages, he is operating within parameters established by the First Amendment.
Last winter, the Powerses and the Beckners tested their lemonade ministry on a snowy Cape Cod golf course. A youthful wild-haired snow boarder who just received some lemonade proclaimed, “Whoa! I’m in heaven, man!” Powers handed his guest a Gospel of John tract and said, “No, but this will tell you how to get there!”
The Powerses moved to Cape Cod in January 1997 from Georgia and consider themselves “tentmaker missionaries” who are supported by their full-time jobs. He is an electrical engineer and she works for the mortgage department of a bank.