Forgive the length of this letter, but there is much to say…
I am writing to you as one of our key supporters. We just want you to know that we are thinking of you in these uncertain times. We have never been more conscious of how our friendships sustain us, including those of our supporters. At IHQ we are all working from home, but it is very much “business as usual” and please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.
With your help, The Mission to Seafarers continues its support around the world in these unprecedented times. Crew, and their families, are facing particularly tough challenges at present. International travel restrictions, the closure of borders and limited flight availability mean it is often very difficult for them to finish their long contracts. Many have had to work on. Others are unable to join ships at the start of their contracts, meaning financial hardship. All this is very detrimental to morale. There is great anxiety about family back home. Many crews are denied shore leave, meaning they cannot access facilities ashore, shops or medical care for example. In most ports, normal welfare facilities are not available and ship visitation is unable to take place as usual. These are very difficult times.
The Mission has been playing its full part, in partnership with others, in advocating internationally on behalf of seafarers. We have been lobbying governments and international organisations to facilitate transit, to recognise seafarers as essential workers and to protect their access to such support as is proper for their well-being. We have also been flagging up the heroism of seafarers. Amidst dramatically challenging circumstances, they are vital in sustaining supply lines, including the delivery of food and medical items. Without them, we would be in far worse difficulty. I hope this is a time when many people, perhaps for the first time, will recognise their absolute dependence on these incredible men and women.
What about our own work at the front line? We are subject to rapidly changing rules at government and at local port level. Even more important, we are observing best practice, determined that we should not spread the virus to crew. Most Seafarer Centres have had to shut, together with transport services. Some ship visiting, where it is allowed, is continuing, but only in limited ways. Usually, this means meeting seafarers at the gangway, maintaining a two-metre distance, and often wearing appropriate personal protection equipment. Where we are delivering supplies, sim cards for example, these must be wiped and disinfected – and we seek to maintain rigid hygiene discipline at all times. Of course, in many cases seafarers are not allowed off the ship anyway and any form of meeting is impossible. In one recent such case seafarers lowered a bucket to the chaplain with money and requested purchases were placed in the bucket. Sometimes it is necessary to resort to older technologies! We are continuing to look at all possible options to continue work, while properly protecting seafarers, together with our staff and volunteers.
In response to all this, we are emphasising digital chaplaincy, contacting seafarers using the internet. Many chaplains already use social media to communicate with the networks of seafarers they have met in port. Beyond that, we have in recent weeks rapidly developed an important new facility. We have called it “Chat to a Chaplain”. This system, which is also being shared with our ecumenical partners, ensures 25 chaplains are available, providing a 24 hour service, ready to respond to seafarers online. The focus is on “listening”, on offering friendship and advice, on encouragement, perhaps a prayer if that is requested. Where necessary, we will be able to connect crew with specialist help. This is an exciting development which we hope will continue beyond the crisis. More information will follow in Flying Angel News.
I have been reflecting on how current events can help us empathise with seafarers. We have often talked about their isolation, their limited contact with others, the constrained nature of the spaces in which they live and work, their lack of access to the normal family and friend support networks, even to Sunday Services. Many of us are now experiencing very similar circumstances. Perhaps one of the benefits of current difficulties is that they are helping us stand in the shoes of others, including seafarers.
This was an unusual Easter for most of us. However, I hope we can still proclaim, even from our isolation, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” More importantly, we will be reminded of the importance of being those who make Easter real in our daily lives. We are called to be bringers of God’s love and light even in the midst of darkness, believing that the God who undergirds our lives is one in whom there is always a future and a hope. That is something we seek to live out in our relationships with seafarers – and it is you who make this possible.
Of note, many churches have started ‘live streaming’ or recording services. Many are learning to “go to church” in a new way. We are also experimenting with this in various ways, including bringing our Annual Service online. Please be sure to access our website at www.missiontoseafarers.org/seasunday for updates on this. If you do not have a computer, please do not worry. To register for our Sea Sunday pack, so that you too can take part, you can telephone Loris Sanson – our Fundraising Assistant – on 020 7246 2930. Alternatively, send us a letter as we are still receiving post. We will also be sending out regular communications to your church.
We hope that you enjoyed taking part in our Lent Appeal which we sent to you at the beginning of Lent. With the closure of church services, we hope that you found our Lenten prayer booklet useful and you were able to share this with friends and family.
We would like to know what you thought of our Lent Appeal and should you feel able to contribute to our work, we would remain as always extremely grateful to you. These are difficult times facing charities, and we want to ensure we continue our important work.
Finally, I enclose your annual statement for the financial year ending 31st March 2020 which you may find useful. Without your support we would not be able to do what we do. While we are in a better position than many, our income streams have inevitably come under pressure, including the income which normally comes into our Centres. We are, of course, keeping a close eye on this and are taking appropriate steps. We will keep you informed as the situation develops. Your generosity will be even more important in the coming months.
Again, I apologise for the length of this letter but I know that many of you wish to remain fully informed. We thank you for your prayers, your friendship, your interest and your ongoing support.
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