Kure Beach Worship
“One of my dreams is leading worship in my bare feet,” says Pastor Dan Keck of Kure Memorial Lutheran Church in Kure Beach, NC. Pastor Dan gets to live that dream every Wednesday evening in summer months as he leads worship on the beach with his congregation and community.
For the past decade, Pastor Dan has served Kure Memorial and worked with Agapé † Kure Beach Ministries to host retreat groups at the Faith Center Lutheran retreat facility on Kure Beach. The Wednesday beach worship service began in 2013, Pastor Dan’s first summer in his call, to bring together his congregation, retreat guests, and the wider community for meaningful worship in a beautiful setting on the beach in front of the retreat center. Since then, beach worship has happened every summer on Wednesdays at 7 p.m., beginning after Memorial Day and stretching into October.
“It’s so relaxed and so refreshing,” says Pastor Dan. “It’s an authentic time of worship together in nature. We notice what’s happening around us and work it into our time of worship. I remember more than once when we’ve been interrupted by dolphins in the ocean, so we stop and watch the dolphins for a while. We receive that as one of the blessings God is placing in our lives.”
Pastor Dan regularly incorporates the beach surroundings into his messages as he reflects on a few verses of Scripture and connects them to daily life. People bring blankets and beach chairs, and kids play in the sand while they worship. The service lasts 20-25 minutes and also includes songs, prayer, and Holy Communion.
The beach worship experience draws a unique community. Members from Kure Memorial attend the service, and many neighbors and members of the wider community are also now regulars every summer. The musicians are a mix of people from the congregation and friends from the community. “It’s really neat because first couple years we played CDs, then a neighbor who is a guitarist played for a couple years, and it has just grown from there,” says Pastor Dan. Now they have a rotation of five sets of musicians, including a ukulele band.
“We publicize the service in the community, and it’s for the community, but people in our congregation love it, too,” says Pastor Dan.
“It’s a setting for worship that not many congregations get to have. It allows us to experience God in a new way.”
The experience of God at the ocean is particularly powerful when there are baptisms during the beach service, which happens nearly every summer. Pastor Dan says, “Over the years, we’ve had more baptisms in our congregation take place out in the ocean on a Wednesday night in the summer than we’ve had in our sanctuary!”
During the pandemic, the beach worship service became a lifeline for people in a new way. Beaches initially closed when COVID-19 hit in 2020, but when they reopened for gathering, so did beach worship. “It was a Godsend,” says Pastor Dan, “because nobody could be together—you couldn’t be inside and you could only have so many people outside—but the beautiful thing was that we could still go out to the beach. We could spread out as much as we wanted, we could see each other, we could be together and worship together. That was such a gift to people. It was a light during very hard times.”
With Agapé † Kure Beach Ministries in the process of selling the Faith Center property and developing a new retreat center at Kure Beach, there will be no retreat guests to participate in beach worship this summer. But the unique community that has formed there by the ocean will continue to gather for worship on Kure Beach at the end of Avenue F, each Wednesday at 7 p.m. starting June 1. All are welcome to bring a beach chair or blanket and experience God in a new way.