Home » Ocean Grove Allows Sunday Morning Beach Access for the First Time in 155+ Years

Ocean Grove Allows Sunday Morning Beach Access for the First Time in 155+ Years

by Jessica Norton
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Ocean Grove residents and visitors can access the beach on Sunday mornings for the first time in over 155 years starting this Memorial Day Weekend. Previously, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA) — a religiously affiliated nonprofit group that has owned the land in Ocean Grove, including a part of the beach, boardwalk, and pier since 1869 — has kept its beach closed on Sundays from 9AM to noon each summer so residents can attend church services. But a new update from local leaders will see the beach open on Sundays just in time for the summer 2024 season. Read on for more about this update to Sunday morning beach access in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

ocean grove beach new jersey

Local History

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA) was given a charter by the state of New Jersey in 1870 allowing it to enforce the Sunday beach restriction. Initially, the association banned beach use for the entire day but eventually gave in to secular and non-Christian residents’ requests and only blocked off the beach until noon.

Historically, OG beach-goers would find access points from the Ocean Grove Boardwalk onto the beach roped off on Sunday mornings from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day weekend.  Visitors were forced to wait until noon to begin their beach day or relocate to the neighboring beaches of Asbury Park, Bradley Beach, Avon-by-the-Sea, or Belmar, to name a few, for immediate morning access. The restriction has been, and continues to be, a point of contention in the quaint and quirky seaside town known as God’s Square Mile.

ocean grove beach sundays

Last summer, dozens gathered on the Ocean Grove beach on Sunday mornings to protest the religiously motivated restriction. Activists have argued that keeping people off of the beach during certain hours is an infringement of their rights as beachgoers. The police were called on individuals violating the Sunday morning rule but officers did not intervene once they arrived.

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Changes in Policy

Last year, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued the City of Ocean Grove a violation letter stating that the town violated the law by cutting off access to the ocean, which is deemed public property. The association’s use of chains and padlocks at the beach access points were determined to “deter public access to the beach during daylight hours” by the NJ DEP. The DEP threatened the association with fines of up to $25,000 a day if the beach was not opened on Sunday mornings.

The OGCMA has applied for an emergency order that will allow it to maintain its longstanding rule, which prohibits visitors on the beach on Sunday before noon, during the hours many Christians are traditionally in church. A conference for attorneys from both sides to discuss the case has been scheduled for September 4th, when peak beach season is over. The OGCMA has agreed to comply with the state order to open the beach and will provide lifeguards on Sunday mornings until the meeting in September.

ocean grove beach sundays

“For 155 years, we have closed our beach on Sunday mornings to honor God — a core pillar of this community since the founding of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association,” the group’s statement says. “We are challenging this order to preserve our property rights and religious freedom.”

What it Means

Ocean Grove locals and visitors with no religious affiliation look forward to getting the extra hours on the beach this summer. Many have pointed out that the beach being open on Sunday mornings does not keep members of the church from attending mass and worship services.

The Methodist group argues that the restriction only encompasses 15 Sundays — 45 hours total — of the year and requests respect for the group’s religious observation and tradition. The OGCMA team also argues that the City of Asbury Park is allowed to close its beaches to accommodate the Sea. Hear. Now. music festival, which shuts down access to the North End beach for the two days of the festival as well as days of pre and post-production before and after the festival happens.

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The ministry’s website confirms that Sunday services of Ocean Grove Beach Church will continue at 9AM every week in the Boardwalk Pavilion while the OGCMA complies with the long-standing DEP regulations allowing beach access during services.

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