ONSET -- Some of the 20 men and boys have come to temple in traditional dark suits and ties. Others bow to the July steam outside, wearing seersucker or open-necked shirts or going sans jacket. This town does snuggle with Buzzards Bay, a place where in the summer as many people worship the sun as worship the Almighty. But the temple-goers all reverently bob forward during the benedictions of Friday afternoon prayer, just before sunset ushers in the Sabbath.
Congregation Beth Israel is open only in summer (and briefly in fall for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana). It's a rare summer harbor for Orthodox Judaism, which requires a quorum of 10 males at each of the three daily prayer services and separates men from women during worship. This night a handful of women pray in a side section of pews.
''There are a couple [of Orthodox summer synagogues] through New England and probably in New York," says Eli Hauser, whose family has owned a house here since 1959. ''My friends tell me also [in] Montreal. So you've got to search them out."
Death may take a holiday; God does not. Believers on summer vacation expect ministers to lead them in services. New England, whose lakes, woods, mountains, and beaches annually beckon to swarms of tourists, is bejeweled with seasonal worship places covering the range of destinations, from jammed seaside resorts to isolated wilderness outposts. Many of these places boast intriguing stories featuring prominent figures from history.
Here is a small sampling of the worship homes away from home.
Chesuncook Village Church
United Church of Christ
Sunday service at 10 a.m.
Pagan religions exalt nature, but they've got nothing on this Congregational church, perched on the northwest shoulder of Chesuncook Lake in northern Maine. Worship here is really getting back to nature. You can boat or hike in to this backwoods retreat (the chapel is a quarter-mile walk uphill from the Chesuncook boat landing), but it's almost impossible to drive here. (Daredevil types with four-wheel drive reportedly have managed to survive miles of treacherous logging roads when the weather's dry.)
Indeed, Chesuncook (ches-UN-cook) was a logging town when Henry David Thoreau canoed here in three days from Greenville.
''Strange," he later wrote, ''that so few ever came to the woods to see how the pine lives and grows and spires."
Today, the chapel steeple spires into the sky alongside the trees, which vastly outnumber the year-round residents (five, according to the church's website). Many visitors are folks on river wilderness trips or Boy Scouts on expeditions.
''You never know who's going to be there," says deacon Diane Bartley.
St. Andre w's - by-the-Sea
Rye Beach, N.H.
Sunday services 8 and 10 a.m.
Episcopalians on New Hampshire's tiny oceanfront once were starved for worship facilities. They turned to William Weld. (No, not that one; this Weld was a Civil War-era Episcopalian who arranged for an Episcopal minister to board in Rye Beach when the area was unserved.)
Still, many felt something more was needed, and summer visitors built Saint Andrew's (the year-round locals were Congregationalists who had their own church) and named it for one of Jesus's fisherman Apostles.
It is a popular wedding venue.
''My wife and I were married there 52 years ago," says Harold Eames, 77, a summer congregant. About 40 knot-tyings are scheduled this summer.
St. Anne's Shrine
92 St. Anne's Road
Isle La Motte, Vt.
Masses at 7 p.m. Saturday; 8:30, 10, and 11:30 a.m. Sunday; 11:15 a.m. weekdays.
Superlatives define this Roman Catholic outpost hard by the Canadian border. Champlain is Vermont's biggest lake and the country's sixth largest, and La Motte its northernmost island.
The shrine sits on what is believed to be the site where Samuel de Champlain camped in 1609 and was part of Vermont's first settlement, a fort built by the French in 1666 to guard against the Iroquois. It hosted the first Mass in what would become Vermont, when a Jesuit celebrant welcomed soldiers and Native American converts to worship in the 1680s.
Since 1904, the shrine has been maintained by the Edmundites, an order of priests and brothers that founded nearby Saint Michael's College the same year. A century later, the Rev. Maurice Boucher, St. Anne's director, is in his 45th year of service here.
A statue of Anne, erected late in the 19th century, was joined in 1991 by a towering, gold-leafed statue of Mary.
''Reunites mother and daughter, if you will," says Steve Doyon, lay director of the shrine.
The Pequot Chapel
857 Montauk Ave.
New London, Conn.
Sunday service 11 a.m.
This Gilded Age antique models America's inclusive pluralism, opening its pulpit every summer to a rainbow coalition of preachers from various faiths. This year's guest clerics include Catholic, Jewish, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Baptist preachers at the Sunday services and at a special evening ecumenical celebration scheduled next Sunday. Even the chapel's name bespeaks multiculturalism, coming as it does from a Native American tribe.
Historically, New London was better known for whaling than worship, and today as the home of the US Coast Guard Academy. When Ulysses S. Grant was president, however, the Pequot House was a popular summer resort. Manager Henry S. Crocker built the chapel as a convenient spiritual annex for guests, and it has two stained glass windows made by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a regular summer visitor and son of the founder of the jewelry company.
The Pequot House burned down in a 1908 fire, but the chapel survives, nourished by the eclecticism of its worship and by its reputation as a great wedding spot. For $500, you can reserve the chapel for your ''I dos", and 20 to 25 couples marry here each summer, June to October. (Wedding season actually outlasts worship season, which ends in September.)
Congregation Beth Israel
7 Locust St.
Sabbath services are Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 9 a.m.
In 1948, Jews in this Wareham village converted a onetime furniture store into a synagogue. In its first couple of decades, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik -- Torah scholar, Boston's chief rabbi for many years, and a mentor to thousands of rabbis at Yeshiva University's theological institute -- led the congregation.
''A lot of his students, rabbis-to-be . . . would pass through for the summer," says Mel Greenbaum, the lay religious director for the synagogue.
The modern Congregation Beth Israel is a nondescript clapboard rectangle on a corner lot, identifiable as a synagogue only from the small black-and-white signboard by the door.
Inside, though, it's surprisingly comfortable, cooled by fans, carpeted in green, and visited by Jews from around the world, according to synagogue president Burt Parker.
The synagogue tries for three daily prayer services, but that's an ideal whose execution is ''really based on tourism," says Greenbaum. ''Ten days may go with a minyan" (a male quorum), ''and then there might be a drought." Call ahead for a worship forecast.
Contact Rich Barlow at firstname.lastname@example.org.