A primer on pastoral planning: Cape Cod edition

Friday 15 April 2016 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Tax Day

All across New England, the days are growing longer and the sun warmer. For Cape Codders, this can only mean that visitors in great numbers will soon be arriving. The early-bird tour buses can already be seen on Main Street. These behemoth buses begin to arrive when the daffodils bloom. 

Many “Off-Cape People” are unsure of the various regions of Cape Cod. Visitors become confused as to whether they are on the Upper Cape, the Mid-Cape, or the Lower Cape. Allow me to clarify.

The Upper Cape is that part closest to the mainland. This includes the towns of Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth and Mashpee. I live on the Upper Cape.

Mid-Cape is comprised of the towns of Barnstable, Yarmouth, and Dennis. I once lived on Mid-Cape. 

The Lower Cape consists of Harwich, Brewster, Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown. The latter four may also be properly referred to as the Outer Cape.

There is no Inner Cape, just as there is no such thing as the Cape Cod Canal Tunnel (although, for a nominal fee, you can purchase a permit to use it).

Having clarified the geographical regions of Cape Cod, shall we proceed to consider the inhabitants? 

Some find it surprising that people actually live here year-round. During the past midwinter school vacation, I received a telephone call from a 30-something professional woman who wanted to visit with me. I suggested she and her family come down to the Cape and we could all go out for supper at a nice restaurant. She was incredulous. “You mean there are restaurants on the Cape that remain open during the winter? Are you joking? People actually live on the Cape at this time of year?” I wasn’t joking and neither was she. She had this mental image of Cape Cod in February as a barren, wind-swept sand dune; the desolation broken only by the screech of some scraggly seagull. 

This woman grew up in New Bedford — which is not far away as the seagull flies. She is no dummy, either. She holds a PhD in education. It’s just that she had never considered Cape Cod anything more than a summer resort.

For those who may hold similar opinions, let me hasten to assure you that people live on the Cape 12 months a year. Cape Cod life goes on after October.

Cape Cod is technically not an island. It is an “independent land mass” of 339 square-miles separated from the mainland by a 17-mile long canal spanned by two bridges. It sticks 65 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. Driving some distance to get somewhere (including Mass) means little to Cape Codders. Perceptions, not maps, determine distance.

True, there are no cities on Cape Cod. There are 15 towns and many villages. Of these 15 towns, Barnstable has the largest population with 44,750 residents. Falmouth is the second largest with 31,576 residents. Yarmouth is the third largest, with a population of 23,680. Coming in a distant fourth is Mashpee, with 14,000 residents.

The four smallest Cape Cod towns are tiny Truro, then Provincetown, Eastham, and Orleans (in ascending order). 

 Cape Cod life is unique. Firstly, we are a summer resort destination. Secondly (how can one put this delicately), the local population had the good sense to experience their mid-life crises decades ago. The vast majority of us are certified senior citizens. 

On Cape Cod, there are 74,000 households without children and only 20,000 with children. There are, of course, some school-aged children on the Cape. According to the 2014 figures of the Barnstable County Commission, the highest concentration of children is found in Barnstable with 5,879. In Falmouth. there were 4,440 kids in our town. Then comes Sandwich, Yarmouth, and Mashpee (in descending order). At the other end of the scale, Provincetown has only 66 school-aged children. 

So, then, how does the Diocese of Fall River meet the pastoral and Spiritual needs of the seasonal and resident populations? In terms of the summer population, we have seasonal chapels. In terms of the resident population, we have parish churches and missions. 

The parish churches are located in Brewster (La Salette Fathers), Centerville (Town of Barnstable), East Falmouth, East Sandwich, Falmouth, Hyannis (Town of Barnstable), North Falmouth, Orleans, Osterville (Town of Barnstable), Pocasset (Town of Bourne), Provincetown, South Yarmouth, Wellfleet, and West Harwich. Not all of these parishes have resident pastors. 

The mission churches are in Dennisport, West Barnstable, and Yarmouthport.

The summer chapels are in East Brewster, Falmouth Heights, South Chatham, South Yarmouth, and Woods Hole.

Yes, Cape Cod is unique, but then so are the cities, the suburbs, and the rural areas of the diocese — not to mention the Islands. It may work for stocking caps, but when it comes to pastoral planning, one size does not fit all. 

As the parishes of the Diocese of Fall River prepare to embark on another round of pastoral planning, there is much to consider. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts