Seaside minister plants faith by carving sermons in the sand

TRUTH GRIT

July 11, 1998|By Rob Hiaasen

OCEAN CITY -- Someone -- maybe one of those darn kids -- had jumped into Christ's tomb, causing a meek avalanche of sand and of spirit. Randy Hofman, maker of the sand sculpture, pondered his fellow man's action.

"I think it's the alcohol that does it."

Then the 46-year-old sand minister got down on his hands and knees and dug. He dug deep, and found a spiritual foothold in the soggy, nether sands of Ocean City -- which welcomes all to its boardwalk and to Hofman's "Biblical Sand Sculptures" in front of the Plim Plaza Hotel.

Seventeen years he has toiled here. Hofman's hair has grayed a hair, but his Windex blue eyes are constant. Twice a week at night and all summer long, Hofman repeats his ritual, his "milk ministry." Meaning easy to digest.

He uses only a flat-point shovel and a crab-picking knife. "The trick is," Hofman says, "you pull away the dry sand and stack it in back. Then you dig down to the wet stuff, pile it up." Hofman starts at the top and sculpts his way down the sand mound. "No footprints that way."

This day in early July, Hofman rebuilt Christ's tomb before knifing and hand-molding an adjacent and more ambitious work -- "The Lord's Supper." Over the years, his giant Moses and Noah's Ark and Crucifixion scenes have been eye-catching. But "The Lord's Supper" requires carving the whole gang.

Colored floodlights strung on shovels are stabbed in the sand. A dozen or so tablets ("God hath given to us eternal life" or "Ye must be born again") front the presentation. Donations collect in a water bottle. And last year Hofman gave away 70,000 copies of his little red book, "Personal Bible Verses."

His work is not mocked. That his sculptures remain intact (for the most part) is a local miracle considering this town's rascally reputation.

"He must be some religious nut," a teen-aged sand-gazer was overheard saying. "No, I'm a religious mutt," Hofman said.

Raised a Catholic and a member at Ocean City Baptist Church, Hofman claims no specific affiliation. He's a "Fisherman of Souls," as his $19 video calls him. A wood carver by day, Hofman's nightly ministries are "sermons at a glance," he says. But they're more than that.

Randy Hofman's sculptures -- encrusted by watered-down Elmer's Glue -- simply belong in Ocean City.

"Beach Life" is a summer-long series of dispatches from the shore.

Pub Date: 7/11/98

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