It was a blessing in which God provided the water — a lot of it.
Torrential rain didn’t dampen the spirits of at least a half dozen or so parishioners who turned out to have their boards — boogie, surf, paddle, skate, and those of the cutting kind — blessed by Father Tom Murray after Mass at St. Therese of Lisieux in Montauk on Sunday.
“We had a few more last year,” said Murray of the eight-year-old church tradition, noting the bad weather put a slight damper on this year’s festivities. “But that doesn’t stop us. As I say, ‘God provided the water.’”
For parishioners in the tiny surf and paddle board crazed community, the blessing, which involves Murray saying a prayer over the board and sprinkling holy water on it using an aspergillum, provides added protection from harm’s way when they are in the water. Murray said he adapted the wording from a boat blessing for the boards.
“It says ‘bless this boat,’ but I say ‘bless this board, and all who will use it. Protect them from the dangers of wind and rain and all the perils of the deep,’” he said.
The annual “Blessing of the Boards” became an annual tradition in the community back in 2010 at the suggestion of church lector and paddle boarder Connie Auteri. A newbie at the sport, she had just come back from teaching herself how to paddle in the bay and realized that getting the heavy board in and out of her truck was actually more difficult than paddling itself. She then bumped into the parish priest at the time, Father Mike.
“I said, ‘Father Mike, I just went for a paddle, why don’t you bless boards?’” Auteri recalled after the 10:30 AM blessing.
Father Mike ended up thinking the idea was a good one and a yearly tradition began, with the first blessing taking place on Father’s Day. The ceremony has since been moved to Memorial Day weekend to mark the start of the summer. There are usually two blessings following the two Masses, with the first one taking place at 8:30 AM.
“The 8:30 [AM] doesn’t show as many because it is the older crowd,” said Auteri, noting the blessing after the 10:30 AM Mass usually draws a lot of children who come with their boogie boards.
“It’s a bigger turnout at the 10:30, but the weather was just terrible today,” she added.
It’s a blessing in which all boards are welcome, even cutting boards, a trend that was started last year.
“Today, we had a woman who came with a cutting board,” said Auteri.
Even Murray joked about his willingness to accommodate parishioners seeking the grace of protection, as he told them during Mass, he was also open to blessing emory boards for nail filing.
“I always say to the ladies, ‘If your husband is bored, I will bless him,’” he said.
Auteri said she had special attention from Murray this year and sought the blessing of her paddle board twice because she will be participating in Paddlers For Humanity’s 2018 Block Challenge, in which paddlers will paddle out from Montauk Lighthouse to Block Island on August 25. The blessing is special to Auteri.
“It’s beautiful. It’s to protect the people who are on the board and to [help them] use it for good, which is what I am going to do with the Paddlers For Humanity,” she said.
The paddle helps raise funds for mental health programs that promote early intervention, resiliency, and anti-bullying programs for children and young adults, but it is a long, hard slog in some treacherous waters. A blessing is exactly what Auteri needs to complete her difficult mission, she opined.
“That’s what I am going to need with the paddle to Block Island,” she added.
Murray and other parish priests will take part in Montauk’s 63rd Annual Blessing of the Fleet on June 10 in Montauk Harbor.
“It’s not going to be here. It’ll be down at the harbor — the boats can’t get here,” Auteri quipped.
The blessing will take place at 5 PM, rain or shine.
“Last year, we had over 200 boats. It was a great day,” Murray added.