Near one of the great harbors along the eastern coast of our country a narrow strip of land juts far out into the sea. At land’s end there is a treacherous shoal that extends another mile or so into the ocean. On stormy days and nights, when the sea is raging and the visibility is poor, it becomes a fearful place for sailors.
For nearly two-hundred years a beacon has stood near land’s end to mark the harbor’s approaches and to warn ships of the dangerous shoal. For many years, near the lighthouse, there was a small rescue station, and on more than one occasion men from this station saved the lives of sailors whose ships had been driven onto the reef.
A hundred and seventy years ago there came a storm like no one had seen in a lifetime. The wind howled in from the northeast, pushing wave after wave of surging billows against the narrow strip of land. The waves swept so high that even the lighthouse was in danger. Then, at the very height of the storm, a great ship from England was driven hard upon the shoals and began to break up in the heavy seas. The ship was loaded with passengers as well as cargo.
Immediately the men of the rescue station launched their boats into the raging surf — striving to save the lives of those in peril. All through the late afternoon and night they struggled, until finally the great ship had been entirely emptied of its passengers and crew. Lives were lost, but many more were saved because of the heroic work of the men of the rescue station.
One of the men rescued from the ship that night was a man of great wealth, and to express his eternal gratitude he gave a large gift of money to the men of the rescue station. Most of the money was immediately put to use. They built a much larger station on higher ground somewhat further from the lighthouse. It was equipped with all the very latest types of rescue equipment, and they even had enough money to build a large, elegantly furnished social hall above the boat house. There the men and their wives or girlfriends could enjoy an occasional dinner or dance.
The years went by. From time to time the rescue station did save other men from the sea, but the occasions became less and less frequent. Perhaps this was because the advent of steamships and motorships meant that fewer ships got into trouble at the harbor’s approaches; or perhaps it was because someone had built a smaller boat station on the other side of the lighthouse, nearer the shoals, and it seemed to get most of the rescue business. At any rate, the character of the old rescue station underwent a gradual change. Membership became a social distinction, and most of the prominent families in the area were represented. In time, social affairs assumed much greater prominence in the life of the rescue station than did concern for training in small boats and rescue work. The biggest social occasion in the life of the station was an annual dance held to commemorate the great storm that had made the station’s fortune.
Some years ago, on the night of the annual dance, another storm swept in from the northeast. It was not so severe as the storm of the previous century, but it was bad nonetheless. Yet party goers did not let the wind and driving rain deter them from their fun. The dance was in full swing, and for those inside the social hall the noise of the band and the merrymakers drowned out sounds of the howling wind and the rain. Suddenly there was an interruption — a loud knocking on the ballroom door. The door was opened and three men stood dripping in the foyer, looking almost half-drowned. There were interrogations and hushed conferences, but most of the dancers went on dancing.
The president of the club angrily approached and asked what was going on. One of the members answered:
“It seems that these men’s boat ran aground down the beach here, and they saw our light.”
“Oh, I see,” said the president. “Well, for heaven’s sake get them downstairs and out of sight. All that salt water is ruining our carpet.”
Let us never forget the purposes for which our churches were founded, and may all who enter therein be welcomed in the name of our Lord and Savior.
(I heard a brief story similar to this many decades ago, but details are forgotten, and I do not know the source.)