When Len Ripley was younger, he was a surfer - but he became a police officer and gave up the hobby. Now he’s a grandfather, and a pastor, and he’s surfing again. As Reed Galin reports, he likes to take his worship outside church walls, into the waves.
(Locator: Folly Beach, South Carolina)
At a distance, he’s just another surfer waiting for a ride.
The Rev. Len Ripley / Pastor, Folly Beach United Methodist Church: “There’s something about nature and water.”
Closer, his gray hair stands out.
The Rev. Len Ripley: “It’s the best therapy you could have.”
Closer still, you discover Len Ripley is uniquely qualified to discuss the spiritual aspects of surfing.
The Rev. Len Ripley: “One of the kids said, ‘Well what do you do?’ and I said ‘I’m the pastor of the Methodist church,’ and their jaws dropped.”
Assigned to the United Methodist Church in Folly Beach, South Carolina, Pastor Ripley visited some members in their surf shop. He had surfed as a teenager, and they got him back in the water.
The Rev. Len Ripley: “Gets you away from everything.”
“Len” Ripley rediscovered how surfing made him feel. “Pastor” Ripley found it furthered his ministry.
The Rev. Len Ripley: “It’s evangelism. You meet people where they are.”
Here, they’re often in the water.
The Rev. Len Ripley: “And occasionally one will come up to you and want to talk. Sometimes, they bring their parents to church.”
Folly Beach is free-spirited, unconventional…people wear flip-flops to church, and different drummers are plentiful. The surfing pastor fits right in.
The Rev. Len Ripley: “I want them to see that religion is not this strict set of rules, and it’s not unlike the lifestyle that I try to live here, just caring and loving my neighbor.”
And, where is a pastor’s soul refreshed?
The Rev. Len Ripley: “I have been out here on the ocean on afternoons when the surf was beautiful, double rainbows, dolphins jumping … If you can’t find God in what's here, I don’t know where you’re going to find God.”
Ripley is a volunteer with the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy. Once he encountered an unconscious surfer, helped emergency teams figure out her identity, then went to break the news to her parents that she’d been taken to the hospital. Luckily, the young lady recovered, and later Ripley was asked to marry her mother and stepfather.
Also see: Surfing pastor helps others find God on beach.