Every preacher should be so lucky as to get in the rotation for guest ministers at a non-denominational beach chapel.

Holden Beach Chapel is my happy spot, a beautiful chapel on a barrier island on North Carolina’s southern coast. Once each year, usually in April, I get invited to preach, and the honorarium is getting to spend the previous week in a “parsonage” just behind the chapel.

It’s neither large nor fancy as beach houses go, but quite comfortable and perfectly adequate for me and my wife. When I’m teaching, we may get only the weekend, but being on sabbatical has its advantages.

This year we were able to spend the whole week as a work retreat. I’d get up early and write from 6:00 a.m. until noon or after, and Susan would paint. Then, we’d take the afternoons off, usually riding bicycles all over the island, packing a light picnic lunch, and walking on the beach.

They’ve been replenishing the beaches with sand pumped in from offshore, which made beachcombing more productive than usual: lots of fossilized sea biscuits, for example, and lettered olives galore.

Shells sitting on a table.

(Photo: Susan Cartledge)

Susan even found some Scotch Bonnets, North Carolina’s state shell but one that’s rarely found. I don’t think I’d ever seen one outside of a gift shop.

While pedaling along streets often lined with beach houses to either side, we enjoyed taking note of the creative names some people attach to their vacation homes, especially those designed as puns.

There were lots of beach/sea/shore puns, of course: “A Shore Thing,” “Shore Enough,” “Shore to Please,” “Sea You Soon,” “A Wave from It All,” “Legasea,” “Seaclusion,” “Seaduction,” and my favorite among those, “Seas the Day.”

Some took me a while, like the sign designed as a personalized license plate with the message “O2BBYDC!”

Drinking puns are common for folks trying to get away. “Wine Down,” for example. “Beachin’ and Winin’,” “Fish & Sips,” “Miller Time.” A sign with a wine bottle on it heralded the house as “The Grape Escape.”

Some folks work their family name into their beach tag: “Steel in Shock,” “The Sand Barr,” “Brice Is Right,” “The Owen-ly Place To Be.”

Shore life gets a nod in names like “Turtle-y Awesome,” “Gulls and Buoys,” “A Shell of a Place,” “Crabby Abby’s,” and “Whale Rested.”

Some people bring their occupation with them to the beach, residing at places like “The Defense Rests,” “Good Medicine,” and “What’s Up, Dock?” A sign shaped like a large tooth said “The Dock Is In.”

I’m sure you noticed that doctors and lawyers are among those who can afford regular getaway digs.

One of my favorite signs was more of a reality pun, an oval sign with the words “Bills, Bills, Bills, and More Bills.” I doubt it belongs to four generations of Williams. It’s more likely a reference to mortgage bills, utility bills, insurance bills, and maintenance bills.

Given how much time I spend at my laptop these days, whether writing or on Zoom calls, if we owned a vacation home, I’d be inclined to give it a name like “Logged Off,” “Rebooting,” or even better, a sign like a red button that says, “Leave Meeting.”

In theory, owning a beach house or mountain cabin sounds nice. For the life of me, though, I can’t imagine that one could provide enough relaxation to outweigh the burdensome responsibility of owning and maintaining it.

One house is enough for us, thank you very much.

As for second homes, for now I’ll stick with the one I’ve had a share in since I was nine years old – the dwelling place Jesus talked about in John 14, a place that requires no taxes or maintenance fees – and it already has a name.

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