They are called the clowns of the sea according to the Audubon Society Field Guide because of their "short dumpty figure, red-rimmed gleaming yellow eyes, gaudy triangular bill and a habit of waddling around, jumping from rock to rock." My husband and I decided to take a tour boat to Eastern Egg Rock Island in Muscongus Bay, six miles east of New Harbor, Maine, to see these clowns in person. You may know them better by the name "Puffin." There is a colony of them on this island where they nest. Unfortunately, all but one had left the island for the winter. Puffins mature at sea. The young ones do not return to their nesting ground for three to five years.
Our disappointment that we could not see these birds turned to fascination as we heard the story of the colony from Eastern Egg Rock Island. In the late 1800s, humans began to go to the island and collect their eggs and trap the birds for their meat and feathers. The puffin population was greatly diminished and eventually disappeared. 100 years later an ornithologist named Dr. Stephen Kress wanted to reestablish a colony of these very social birds on the island. In 1973, with the help of his associates, Dr. Kress moved puffin eggs in soup cans from Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock Island. They were placed in nooks of the large granite rocks that surround the island and in handmade burrows close by. Once the eggs hatched, the chicks were hand fed and protected until they could fledge.
The hope was that the chicks would return to Egg Island. However, this was not the case. Realizing how social these birds are, they put up decoys of puffins so that the bird would think there was a community on the island. The birds were too smart for the scientists. The second trick to help make the puffins feel like there was a real community on the island was to bring in puffin sounds and mirrors that would reflect the decoys and the real puffins. This did the trick. More eggs were brought to the island. In 1977 one banded puffin returned. However, it took until 1981 for the birds to nest in groups. By the late 1990s there were 50 pairs of nesting puffins.
We must give the puffins credit for their astuteness. They could recognize the decoy and did not set up camp until they were assured there would be a community to live with. Puffins prosper only when they live in a colony with other birds. Did you ever think that Christian families also look for a church community where they will be fed spiritually and physically? We need that kind of fellowship. We were made for love. Here is what Hebrews 10:24-25 says in The Passion Translation: "Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing. In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day is dawning."
Just like the coals of a fire need to be tightly packed together to burn, we need to be closely associated with other members of a congregation. As my husband says, "There are no lone rangers in the body of Christ." We need one another! There is a spiritual atmosphere when we gather that does not come when we are alone. My encouragement is that all of us need to belong to and participate with a church family.
Joan E. Mathias