People of Summer
the Rev. Edmund Robinson
Unitarian Universalist Meeting House
August 19, 2018
Just about this time of year in Chatham and surrounding towns, the summer visitors start to go back to America. There will be a day when it seems that a drain plug had suddenly been opened and the streets where you couldn’t get across or turn left with less than a five-minute wait are suddenly vacant. The yearly phenomenon is so striking to those of us who live here year around that I thought it worth a few moments of our time reflecting on what it means and what it could mean for this Meeting House.
I got the title of this sermon from a bumper sticker. Now I learned early in my ministry here that preaching from bumper stickers can be hazardous. Yesterday we laid to rest Fran Jones, whose family goes back to the first English settlers of Chatham, and who was a commercial fisherman, as was his father before him. When I came here ten years ago, my first sermon alluded to the bumper sticker that was all over town at the time: “Chatham, a quaint drinking village with a fishing problem.” At coffee hour afterwards, Fran’s now-deceased wife Jean, one of the founding members of this church, let me know in no uncertain terms that she didn’t take too kindly to that message because the commercial fishermen didn’t drink any more than the rest of the town. She was right. A lot of people drink and a lot of people fish, some commercially, some recreationally and they aren’t necessarily the same people.
So it’s with some trepidation that I tell you that the bumper sticker which inspired me today is also a put-down. Its “Summer people, some are not.” It’s funny on the surface but it has a wicked underbelly. It implies that some of our visitors aren‘t even people.
For some seasonal creatures, of course, that’s literally true. Cape Codders go to considerable extremes and inconvenience to allow piping plovers to breed here, because that species is endangered. Our shorebirds blow in and stay for even shorter times than many of the summer human visitors. And they spend less money. A few years ago, Cape Cod was even visited by a bear.
But I digress. It is those human visitors the bumper sticker is obviously talking about. It expresses a bit of peninsular arrogance, much like the term “washashore.” “Summer people, some are not” implies that if you are not a full-time Cape Codder you are a lesser order of being, and “washashore” implies that you have to have lived here all your life to escape the stigma.
It’s not a healthy mindset, to put it mildly. We can hardly claim any degree of personal virtue from where we were born; none of us had any choice in that matter. And while some of us have been lucky enough to arrange to live year-round on this great sandbar in the sea, that does not imply that those who have not been so fortunate are somehow lesser beings.
And as in so many other corners of life, year-rounders tend to tar all summer visitors with the behavior of the worst. We drive the roads we drive all year, only now there are cyclists without helmets dressed in dark clothes weaving up the main roads at dusk, just almost inviting you to hit them. They wouldn’t take these risks back in Schenectady, but somehow they convince themselves that when they are on vacation, the rules of common sense safety can be suspended. Isn’t the Cape marvelous?
With a moment’s reflection we are aware that most summer visitors are actually quite sensible and it’s only the actions fo a few which concern us.
But what is the respectful term to call our summer human bounty? When I was young, the respectful term that white people used to refer to African Americans was colored people. We have been through many terms in my lifetime as we struggle with this deep issue of race, and in the 1990 there sprang up this variation on the older term, “people of color.” That seemed more satisfying and fair than the older term because it put people first.
So I want to do the same shift with the phrase Summer People. We are not concerned with Summer people. We are concerned with “people of summer.” They are people first, and they have inherent worth and dignity like everyone else.
We all need to remember that each of us who goes somewhere else for a little vacation is a summer person. I was a summer person in Star Island and at Pinewoods Camp in Plymouth earlier this summer.
Why am I talking about this in a sermon? The religious value which this traveling brings up is the practice of hospitality. I served the UU church of Belmont, MA for three years, and in the front of the sanctuary of that fine old building is a Tiffany stained glass window which depicts a weary traveler resting on a rock, and the figure of an angel who is apparently trying to encourage him on his journey.
What is going on there? The church has been Unitarian since it was founded in the mid-nineteenth century. Why would they have an angel at the front of the sanctuary? The answer was that it had to do with hospitality. The traveler’s hat has a cockle shell on it, and from that we know that he is a pilgrim on the way to Santiago de Campostello, the great pilgrimage site in Spain which is believed by some to contain the last remains of St. James, the brother of Jesus.
Over the centuries of pilgrimage to that site, a tradition of hospitality has grown up. Houses along the way would open themselves to the weary pilgrims on the road. The cockle shell evokes the dish that symbolizes that hospitality, coquilles St. Jacques.
Hospitality, the receiving of visitors, as we say at welcome and announcements every week, is a priority for us and should be for any UU congregation. It is a holy practice. It is a recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It is also flatly opposed to the immigration policy of the current administration.
We are all travelers on a common road, and as I say when we welcome new members, joining a church is not like marriage where you pledge loyalty unto death. It is rather an agreement to share the road awhile. And at our new member ceremony I sing
It’s a pleasure to know you
A pleasure to see you smile
A comfort to know
We’ll share the road awhile
Pleasure is fleeting
Comforts are far between
It’s a pleasure to know you
And the comforts you bring.
How can we practice better hospitality to the people of summer who come to visit us? I am inspired to ask this question by the fact that one of our regular summer visitors has just offered to share with the financial leadership of the Meeting House his expertise and experience with a successful turnaround of the fortunes of the church he attends off-Cape. This is a practical bit of wisdom-sharing, but it makes me wonder what other riches we might find if we could set up a means to bring them to light.
My memory is not the best, but I find myself recognizing visitors to the Meeting House who come to Chatham for a week or two in the summer and make a regular habit of stopping by to join us in Sunday worship. And I wonder, what more could we be doing to welcome them and to get to know them? And it occurred to me that with current technology we could at least offer some kind of year-round connection.
At least we could put folks on the e-distribution list for the Friday bulletin and the monthly newsletter. I already post text copies and sometimes video copies of sermons online, and I’m hoping to soon move to a form which is more user-friendly: podcasts, where you can listen to a sermon in the car as you do your errands. Imagine picking up your dry cleaning and taking your dog to be groomed in Hartford or Westchester while having the voice of Chatham ringing in your ears!
But I’d hope it could be a two-way exchange. I’d like for the summer visitors to get to know some of our year-round members and vice versa. How many of you walk out of a funeral or memorial service saying, “I didn’t know that about her; I wish I’d gotten to know her better.” Could we set up some mechanism where we could get to know one another so that when the summer visitor walks physically in the door of the Meeting House for the one or two annual visits there will be people who not only know your name but know that you had a great trip to Ireland three months ago, or just published a book on antique cars?
How about creating a chat forum for sharing solutions that have worked on common church problems? I’m not just talking about length of announcements or Joys and Concerns or whether you can clap for a kid’s musical performance. I’m talking about the uncomfortable conversations around racism and whether the national UUA is being effective in its leadership on this issue. I’m talking about how we stand up for our deepest UU values when they are under assault on multiple fronts in the current political climate without descending into partisan sniping. I’m talking about how we bridge the yawning fissures in our political and cultural life without abandoning our values or our love for all people.
Of course, not all summer visitors here identify as UUs or belong to a congregation back home. It is part of our commitment to hospitality and inclusion, however, that you are accepted as one of us, or one of UUS, for the hour you are here. Many of the conversations which need to happen do not need any denominational label.
Now this all may be pie in the sky, or a pipe dream. I recognize that when Cape Cod’s summer visitors return to your homes out there in America, you resume lives which may be full to the brim with friends, family, activities, obligations, culture and even careers. Perhaps a closer connection to one little corner of their Cape Cod summer experience is not desirable to most. But if there were only a few, and it didn’t cost the Meeting House significantly in time, money or resources, I’d like to try some sort of outreach or inclusion program.
Maybe this is chutzpah on my part. The miniature golf courses you play on, the clam shacks you eat at, the fishing piers you visit, the summer stock plays you see, the whale watch boats and airplane rides and bike trails, the band concerts and sunsets and bed and breakfasts don’t ask you to remember them or stay involved. The experiences of Cape Cod summer will just float up in your memory and bring a smile to your face without requiring any further effort. You don’t even have to catalogue your photos, your computer will do it for you. And after all, unless you have a real “in,” you have probably already paid a pretty penny for those experiences.
I guess I want not only for our year-round members to see our summer visitors as real people but for the people of summer to recognize that we have an ongoing existence when they are not visiting.
It isn’t hard to see that we have a motive, but there’s nothing wrong with that motive so I can just make it explicit. In the best of scenarios, we’d love for this Meeting House to be part of the factors that might lead you some day to be a year-rounder yourself.
Start with this, people of summer: do you realize that many year-rounders consider September to be the best month on Cape Cod? The water is still reasonably warm for swimming and boating and the worst of the heat, humidity and insects are behind us.
At a minimum, hospitality calls on the year-rounders to express some appreciation to the people of summer. The idle talk and complaints around the barber shops and grocery aisles are about the negative aspects of this human tide, but really life in this part of the world would be pretty grim if nobody visited Cape Cod in the summer. Many of our favorite restaurants would not be in business at all, and the principal employers of the region would go out of business, settling on us a deep economic and psychological depression. Without business and real estate taxes, the ability of the towns to furnish services and run schools would be open to question.
In sum, the lifestyle that the year-rounders enjoy is fueled by the money brought by the people of summer. So let’s have a hat-tip to the folks who make it all possible. As that plug is pulled and the human tide starts to ebb across the bridges, the year-rounders will be waving at you from the overpasses between now and Labor Day, hoping you had a good time on your stay here. Here at the Meeting House, we hope that your visit here is among the positive memories which will bring a smile to your face in the year ahead.
So let us finish by singing a song that I cobbled together a couple of years ago, with a little help from Patti page.
The Meeting House on Old Cape Cod
If you want a faith that feeds your soul,
Frees your mind and makes you whole,
Come to our Meeting House on Old Cape Cod.
If you like the warmth of friends so true,
In a quaint village with an ocean view,
Come to our Meeting House on Old Cape Cod.
We embrace justice and diversity,
Roots to hold, wings to set us free,
We sing our hearts out on a Sunday morn,
Tunes we’ve loved since we were born.
If you come to worship, you’ll want to stay
Join in our fellowship of work and play,
Come to our Meeting House on Old Cape Cod,
On Old Cape Cod.
Readings for People of Summer
From Shavings by Joseph Lincoln
He was on his way to the post office, always the gossip sharpshooters' first line trench, when, turning the corner where Nickerson's Lane enters the main road, he saw something which caused him to pause, alter his battle-mad walk to a slower one, then to a saunter, and finally to a halt altogether. This something was a toy windmill fas tened to a white picket fence and clattering cheerfully as its arms spun in the brisk, pleasant summer breeze.
The little windmill was one of a dozen, all fastened to the top rail of that fence and all whirling. Behind the fence, on posts, were other and larger windmills; behind these, others larger still. Interspersed among the mills were little wooden sailors swinging paddles; weather vanes in the shapes of wooden whales, swordfish, ducks, crows, seagulls; circles of little wooden profile sailboats, made to chase each other 'round and 'round a central post. All of these were painted in gay colors, or in black and white, and all were in motion. The mills spun, the boats sailed 'round and 'round, the sailors did vigorous Indian club exercises with their paddles. The grass in the little yard and the tall hollyhocks in the beds at its sides swayed and bowed and nodded. Beyond, seen over the edge of the bluff and stretching to the horizon, the blue and white waves leaped and danced and sparkled. As a picture of movement and color and joyful bustle the scene was inspir ing children, viewing it for the first time, almost invariably danced and waved their arms in sympathy. Summer visitors, loitering idly by, suddenly became fired with the desire to set about doing something, something energetic.
Cape Codders in Heaven by Russell K. Tupper of Sandwich
I dreamed that I went to that city of gold
To heaven resplendent and fair
And after I entered that beautiful fold
One by one in authority there I was told
That not a Cape Codder lived there
That not a Cape Codder lived there
Impossible, sir, why from my own town
Many sought this delectable place
And they must be here with a harp and a crown
A conquering home and a cool linen gown
All received through unmerited grace
All received through unmerited grace
Well, the angel replied, all Cape Codders come here
When first they resign from the earth,
But after a day or a month or a year,
They lonesome and restless and homesick appear,
And they long for the land of their birth,
They long for the land of their birth .
They speak of ravines, wild, secluded and deep
Of the glorious landscape serene,
Of the wonderous ocean imposing and deep,
Upon which those fishing boats skillfully sweep,
Their nets in the fathomless green,
Their nets in the fathomless green.
And we give them the best that the kingdom provides,
They have everything here at their nod,
But not a Cape Codder in heaven abides,
A very brief period here he resides
Then he hikes his way back to Cape Cod,
He hikes his way back to Cape Cod.