Cayuga County boat blessing unites people, helps community - Catholic Courier

Cayuga County boat blessing unites people, helps community

Just one hour before the 21st-annual Blessing of the Boats was set to begin in Aurora July 1, the event’s organizer, John Miller, feared the event would be a flop.

The skies were dark and threatening, and the radar map indicated that a severe thunderstorm soon would be centered over Aurora.

Much to Miller’s surprise, however, the skies cleared, the band played on and people came out en masse. The 2023 Blessing of the Boats will likely be remembered as one of the most successful such events to date, despite the fact that only a handful of boats showed up to be blessed, he remarked.

Annual Blessing of the Boats brings Aurora’s church congregations together

Miller founded the Blessing of the Boats more than two decades ago with fellow Aurora resident Steve Zabriskie. Miller worshipped at St. Patrick Church in Aurora, which is part of Good Shepherd Catholic Community, and Zabriskie attended United Ministry of Aurora. Located just a few doors down from each other on Aurora’s Main Street, both churches sit on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake with the lake right in their backyards.

Both churches also were facing challenges at the time, Miller said. Inspired by the blessing of a fleet of fishing boats he’d seen while traveling in Georgia, Miller suggested to Zabriskie that they start a similar event in their own village to remind people that the churches are the glue that holds the community together, he said.

“We really wanted to mount something that would be special in this special community, something that would unify our church congregations and be a tribute to the strong influence of those faith organizations and village leaders of 150 to 200 years ago,” Zabriskie added.

Such an event also should raise money for local nonprofit organizations, the men decided.

“We started this, and 21 years later, we’ve raised over $100,000 that we’ve given to local community nonprofits, like our fire department, our library, a youth camp here, … Matthew House, which is a hospice in Auburn,” Miller said.

Blessing event raises money for local nonprofits without charging admission

Organizers don’t charge an admission fee to attend the blessing, nor do they charge for the hamburgers, hot dogs and beverages provided during the event, Miller said. Instead, all of the money raised comes from the sale of raffle tickets and donations, he explained.

St. Patrick and United Ministry take turns hosting the blessing in their backyards. Looking out over Cayuga Lake, the pastoral leaders of both congregations offer a blessing to the boaters assembled on their vessels, which range in size from pontoon boats and speedboats to kayaks, canoes and even paddleboards. A crowd of onlookers watch from the shore while the blessing is conferred, then they participate in a champagne toast.

“The champagne is popped, the burgers and the hot dogs sizzle, the soda flows, the keg is tapped and the music begins,” explained the Rev. Barb Blom of United Ministry of Aurora.

“It brings the community together. Summer visitors are there with local residents. There’s an ecumenical dimension to it,” added Father William Moorby, pastor of Good Shepherd Catholic Community.

Ominous storm clouds threaten Blessing of the Boats, but prayers prevail

The Blessing of the Boats typically draws between 30 and 50 boats, and the 2023 blessing seemed to be on track to be the biggest ever, as the mayors of both Union Springs and Cayuga planned to arrive via their respective fire departments’ watercraft, Miller said. However, by 5 p.m. on the day of the blessing an ominous weather forecast forced Miller to contact as many boaters as he could and implore them not to come to the blessing by boat.

“The last place you can be in a thunder and lightning storm is on the water. It’s absolutely dangerous,” he explained.

He encouraged people to still drive to the event and participate on land. A crew of teen volunteers — headed by Silas MacCormick and Nolan Gans — had started moving tables into St. Patrick’s basement when Miller received a text from a fellow parishioner who had prayed for Mary’s intercession against the approaching storm.

“Then I’m watching this storm, and it literally goes north of us and … completely misses us. Now it’s raining, but we don’t have any thunder and lightning,” Miller said.

Shortly after Father Moorby and the Rev. Blom offered words of prayer for good weather, the rain stopped, too, right at 6 p.m., he said. Zabriskie, who lives near St. Patrick, came into view on a paddleboard, leading a small parade of boats to the shore.

“We do the blessing. I turn around, and there’s 300 people there (on shore),” Miller said. “It turned out to be a great evening. … I had to kick people out of there around midnight.”

The crowd was larger than any he’s seen in his nine years of offering the blessing, Father Moorby said.

“We owe it all to prayer. That’s the way I’m looking at it,” Miller said.

Tags: Cayuga County News
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