“Preach at the Beach” — Reloaded

Yesterday I shared a post about Saturday’s “Preach at the Beach” service that was interrupted by the gunfire of hunters. And, no, I never dreamed that I’d ever write a sentence like the one I just wrote. Anyway, I followed up with a local media outlet to express my outrage that hunting on public beaches is actually allowed in the state of Massachusetts. This article appears in today’s Patriot-Ledger:

Church picnic on Hingham beach interrupted by hunters’ gunfire

HINGHAM — The rector of St. John the Evangelist Church and some parishioners are pressing the town’s beach trustees to ban hunting on Hingham Bathing Beach after hunters shot at geese while he was conducting a beachside service this weekend.

“All of a sudden, a few of us noticed just three geese flying by and right then, bam, bam, bam. One of the geese falls in the water,” said the Rev. Timothy Schenck, who is the rector of the Episcopal church.

The Rev.  Schenck likes to hold church services outdoors a few times every summer to show his parishioners that God isn’t just found at the pulpit and in the pews. But the lesson may have gone up in a cloud of shotgun smoke Saturday at his beachside service – geared specially for families with young children – when two hunters on the same stretch of Hingham Bathing Beach raised their shotguns and opened fire on a small flock of geese flying overhead.

More shots were fired as the hunters took aim at a wounded Canada goose, the Rev. Schenck said. “The kids were naturally freaked out,” he said. “You don’t go to church expecting to see a shooting gallery.”

The shots were fired after the service concluded around 5:30 p.m. and during the church-sponsored beach picnic. The Rev. Schenck called Hingham police, convinced that the hunters were breaking the law by firing guns on a town beach where there were children on the shore and kayakers and paddle-boarders in the water. Police did arrive at the scene, no arrests were made and no charges filed.

It’s Canada goose season in Massachusetts through Friday, and state law prohibits hunting only within 150 feet of a roadway and within 500 feet of a dwelling or occupied building, and apparently neither of those two regulations were violated.

But the shooting has definitely sparked a controversy. The Rev. Schenck and some parishioners at St. John are already pressing the town’s beach trustees to ban hunting there.

Beach trustee and board chairman Thomas Foley said he plans to hold a meeting in a few weeks and push for a town bylaw that would do just that. “I’d rather see hunting limited to other areas,” he said Monday. But he’s not certain it’s possible to enact a ban, given state laws that date back to colonial days, allowing coastal hunting. Still, he’d like to see more sensitive hunters. “Certainly, when it’s obvious there’s a prayer meeting going and small kids, I would hope hunter would find another time to hunt.”

As for the hunters involved in Saturday’s bird shooting, they are a father and son from Hingham who on Monday would gave the Ledger only their first names, saying they feared reprisals against their property and their hunting dog. But the father, who identified himself as David, a 61-year-old Hingham resident, was adamant about his right to hunt Canada geese on the beach.

They’ve hunted there several times since the season opened on Sept. 7, he said. “We go where the birds are. We’ve bagged some geese and it’s our right to do so,” David said, pointing out that he and his 24-year-old son, Erich, were already on the beach with decoys and their shotguns when the churchgoers arrived there on Saturday. Erich was back on the beach hunting late Monday afternoon.

The bird they shot on Saturday was wounded slightly, he said, and they were unable to kill it with successive shots. “Unfortunately these things happen,” he said. “We make every effort to make sure birds are dispatched immediately.” David also said that the geese he hunts are all processed for meat, and they are looking for charitable organizations which would accept donated goose meat.

The state allows hunting of geese this early in the hunting season because these are resident Canada geese, not migratory birds, said Robert Deblinger, deputy director of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. With some 35,000 resident geese and mounting complaints about geese defecating on private property and public spaces, the state has tried to cull their numbers through hunting. Still, hunters are limited to seven geese per day and a total of 14 per season.

Back at St. John’s church, the concern isn’t about geese populations but about the clash of guns and beaches and whether the “Preach at the beach” project can withstand another barrage of shotgun fire. “Never in my life have I done a liturgy that involved firearms,” said Rev. Schenck. “Do we all have to dress in orange now?”

Chris Burrell may be reached at cburrell@ledger.com.

Copyright 2010 The Patriot Ledger. Some rights reserved 
Click here to see a great picture of our semi-anonymous hunter.
And you can exercise your right to vote in a Patriot-Ledger poll titled “Should Hunting be banned on all waterfront property accessible to the public?” Cast your vote!

One Comment on ““Preach at the Beach” — Reloaded”

  1. […] In light of Goose Gate 2010 I’ve been given a bird’s eye (so to speak) view of the state of public discourse. At […]

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