The little coastal freighter barely made it to the lee of Caldy Island, in the Bristol Channel, one mile off the Welsh coast. Bound out from the Scottish port of Irvine on a 30-hour run to the Welsh port of Milford Haven, the 700-ton St. Angus had run into one of the winter's wildest storms, which raked and pounded Britain from the Hebrides to the Scilly Isles. Off tiny Caldy (pop. 59) the seven-man crew faced a grim Christmas. Their food was running low and there was little hope of getting more. The men of St. Angus radioed the situation to the mainland, and resigned themselves to riding out the storm on empty stomachs.
Suddenly they saw a sight to make Lord Nelson rub his eye. Out from the island, against 8-ft. waves and a 60-mile-an-hour wind, bucked an old World War II amphibious craft manned by four cowled monks and a coast guardsman. When St. Angus finally got a line to them, the crew hauled up a tea chest of staples. It was no ham or roast goose Christmas dinner, for the monks who brought it were austere Trappists, who eat only bread, butter, cheese and fruit, but there were some cans of beer (kept for monastery guests), for St. Angus men.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Mercy Ships, Mariners, & Religion
A reader noted that in last week's post about maritime-based relief efforts in Haiti, I pointed out that two of the charities were Christian. Having worked for a large charity in the past, I know it's important for many donors to know where their money is going. Some would not want their money going to a Christian charity, some would not want their money going anywhere but a Christian charity, some couldn't care less. I only pointed out the charities' religious affiliation since I was encouraging people to donate money, goods, and expertise, but I thought they should do so with their eyes open.
One of the charities, Mercy Ships, was for many years associated with the Christian missionary organization Youth With A Mission (YWAM). Mercy Ships itself was founded by two YWAM members, but has for years been operationally separate from the youth missionary organization. YWAM has been the subject of several controversies over the years. Mercy Ships has been criticized recently for high salaries paid to its top officers. According to the Charity Navigator website, the charity's president earned more than $124,000 in 2007. Mercy Ships also note that more than 82 percent of donations go to programs, as opposed to salaries, administration, and other expenses.
For Charity Navigator's complete report on Mercy Ships, click here.
South African Murray Tristan Crawford is currently serving as an Assistant Purser with Mercy Ships and blogs about it here.
Modern mariners sometimes have an uneasy relationship with religion. One captain I worked under forbade crew members from holding non-denominational "gatherings" in public areas on board the vessel. Another told the crew to honor the Sabbath as best as possible by only performing necessary watchkeeping, safety, and sanitary duties on Sundays. On the evening of September 11, 2001, I was asked by some passengers to lead a prayer before dinner. It was a natural reaction on their part, but I had to refuse: with sixty passengers on board, you can be sure someone would be offended. Then there's the HR issues that come up when "asking" crew members to pray with you.
Religion used to be a much more important part of mariners' lives. Englishman John Newton, a seaman working on a slave trader, did not consider himself a spiritual man until his vessel was in a storm one night and he called out to God for help. His conversion would eventually lead to him giving up the sea and the slave trade, becoming a clergyman, and writing and publishing the song "Amazing Grace" in 1779. Religion is a major theme in Herman Melville's Moby Dick which, while it is fiction, is based on real events and informed by Melville's career at sea.
Churches and other faith-based organizations have often rallied to the cause of the seaman, traditionally lonely, poor, and possibly a slave to the bottle. Sometimes, religious orders provide material needs, like the monks that Time magazine reported on in its January 11, 1960 edition:
Today several religious organizations exist to serve seamen. All listed here are Christian. If you know of any serving mariners of other faiths, please add a Comment below or email me at email@example.com.
New York's Seaman's Church Institute, which I mentioned in my "Holidays At Sea" post, can be contacted here. Also mentioned in the at post were the Charleston Port and Seafarers Society (more information here) and the Seafarers & International Home in New York here.
Seamen from around the world call on the Stella Maris Center nearest them. More here.
UK seamen may look to the Seamen's Friendly Society of St. Paul here.
The Mission To Seafarer's is also based in the UK but ministers to mariners of all nations. More info here.
Posted by Rob Earle at 1:22 AM