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Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church: The Unauthorised Tour

One thing I’ve found being in church for many years is that it’s important to have a home church, usually the one you grew up in. This is mine: Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach, FL.

Although these shots (with one exception) were taken many years after my departure, the church is on the National Register of Historical places, so there have been few changes (although they have messed around with a few things since this millennium began…)

Other Bethesda Related Links

Reflections on Bethesda

Do not love the world or what the world can offer. When any one loves the world, there is no love for the Father in him; for all that the world can offer–the gratification of the earthly nature, the gratification of the eye, the pretentious life–belongs, not to the Father, but to the world. (1 John 2:15-16)

Today the Anglican Communion in the U.S. is in dire straits. But the forces that have brought things to their present state are nothing new; almost all of them were present in the Bethesda I grew up in. Bethesda is, in some ways, an outsized example of how we got where we are.

As we note elsewhere, people can come to church primarily because they agree with what the church teaches, or they can come for other reasons: social, aesthetic, etc. Episcopal churches in general and Bethesda in particular simply have too many of the latter in their pews. This makes it easy for liberals to come in and take command; if they can keep up appearances, they can keep things going even when the church’s core message has totally changed. This is not to say that everyone went along with this; the Episcopal church lost a million members in the 1960’s and 1970’s in the process of its radicalisation, and stands to repeat or exceed that feat again.

Coupled with the social membership are demographics. The Episcopal church’s membership income distribution is simply too skewed into the upper reaches of our society. This wasn’t the original intent; when Henry VIII took charge of the church in England, his idea was that the Church of England be the church of every Englishman, from himself to the ploughboy. The Nonconformists chipped away at that in the mother country, but in the American colonies they proceeded to blow Anglican churches out of the water for the bulk of the populace. They were so successful that they were able to oust the Episcopal church as the state church in the Southern colonies in the wake of the American Revolution.

This brings me to an important point–people talk about an “inclusive” vs. “exclusive” church but with churches like Bethesda we have to ask: inclusive or exclusive of what? Or whom? Bethesda, like most Episcopal churches, prides itself in being “inclusive” but the reality is that the church was built and is sustained on being “exclusive” in a socio-economic way, much like a country club. This situation is an opportunity to reach a difficult group with the Gospel, but as long as the liberals are in dominance the church will lack a message worth bringing.

But everything isn’t negative here. Bethesda is a beautiful church, and it’s hard to be impressed with anything else. Ultimately, though, the chief objective is, as it always really was, to carry out the main mission: “The Son of Man has come to ‘search for those who are lost’ and to save them.” (Luke 19:10)


12 Replies to “Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church: The Unauthorised Tour”

  1. We were in attendance for Xmas in 1989, after 1st wk in advent in Little Rock AR. We were so BLESSED, and invited others from our resort, we must’ve attended 6 services and we were entranced each time. The priest took us into the choir for one service w/ so few. But the comments from the palmbeachians were so tender. “ooowe’e never been up here before”, “I came here as a bride and we are now retired” – both elders. A later service was in a tiny chapel of such beauty as to keep us in awe. Our priest said since we attended all the xmas/newyr services that we didn’t just make his week, we made his year. Most importantly, how do I get a photo of the gargoyle in the courtyard. What is his story? I love you. Mike & Donna Dees in Coos Bay OR.


    1. I don’t have a photo (or at least can’t find it) specifically of the gargoyle.

      Many of us who grew up at Bethesda did our best to be impish, though, so we probably never noticed it.


  2. How nice of you to respond. I have kept you in my heart & mind ever since. I sure thank you for the lovely experience. The Lord be with y’all. We do have a photo of it, but it is against the sky, with little detail. He was surely the best I have ever seen. Take care, sincerely, Donna


  3. I have to laugh at all the times you use the word ‘liberal’. ‘Liberal’ and Episcopalian are very seldom used in the same sentence, or paragraph, or book or library…
    Also, with all the good Anglican music out there, why would you choose that God-awful Vatican II Catholic crap to play with your slide show?


  4. I suppose the reason why you don’t see “liberal” and “Episcopalian” in the same sentence is because the two are virtually synonymous. It’s a tautology.

    I was regaling an Episcopal friend the other night about the Mary Glasspool (the partnered lesbian who is now an Episcopal bishop in Los Angeles) saga and he dolefully observed that there is liberal, and then there is liberal…

    As far as the “God-awful Vatican II Catholic crap” is concerned, there are three reasons why I feature this: a) the subject matter, b) the fact that it’s superior to Bethesda’s first “rock mass,” and c) the fact that I have a good deal of this available. You direct me to a site that features traditional Anglican music for download and this music can be changed.


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