One of the reasons I love working for The Mission to Seafarers is the marvellous diversity of its contexts, its teams, its supporters, and its partners.
While we are unashamedly Christian in our purposes, values, and charitable aims, we exist to support and care for seafarers and their families of all nationalities, of all faiths and none. We do so with absolute respect and sensitivity. It is no surprise that I sometimes get complaints of two types – that we are not Christian enough, or conversely that we are too Christian! It is one of many tightropes I find myself walking.
Recently, I received one of those letters, gently suggesting that we might be drifting away from our Christian roots. Below are some comments I made in response.
“On the specific point you kindly and gently raise, I am always happy for people to hold our feet to the fire when it comes to our core Christian purpose. It is a healthy thing and I take it very seriously. Interestingly I often feel I am walking something of a tightrope. Some accuse us of being too Christian, others not Christian enough!
Of course, times and organisations move forward. I often talk about “rocks and rivers.” MtS both needs to be faithful to its founding and undergirding principles (the rock) while continuing to move forward creatively in response to changing times and circumstances, most particularly in shipping (the river). However, If you were to go around those 200 ports around where we have a presence, I think you would find our Christian purpose roots, and that sense of gospel responsibility, very much intact.
Like all the Church of England’s mission agencies, we are a voluntary organisation, not directly subject as parish churches are to episcopal leadership and synodical governance. However, our relationship with the Anglican communion remains intensely strong at every level. Our chaplains are licensed by the local Bishop, the church is represented strongly in governance and leadership, and our staff and volunteers at the front line are largely, though not exclusively, drawn from local churches. Our chaplains remain at the heart of our work. Lay or ordained, all, obviously, bring a very specific Christian commitment.
Our ministry, as it has been for so many years, is, of course, very practical, and holistic, very much in the spirit of Matthew 25 with its emphasis on sheltering the homeless, giving water to the thirsty, food to the hungry and clothing to the naked. However, alongside these practicalities remains a rich vein of more specific forms of Christian ministry.
These are integral to our expression of mission, and I see them all the time. As you know, we are deeply conscious that we are visiting seafarers in their homes and workplaces. Sensitivity, support, and respect for those of all faiths and none are embedded as a core value – one shared right across the Christian maritime ministry network. As a result, our gospel is often shared more by deed than by word.
One of the reasons I love the Mission is that it is so marvellously diverse. We have a wonderfully and richly varied staff, both at the front line and in our support teams. More than that, we can only survive and thrive as a result of our highly diverse partnerships, across churches, across the ecumenical and faith divides, across maritime welfare partners, across companies (within and without shipping), across a volunteer network of great variety.
This is a great thing, often placing Christian mission very naturally at the heart of the secular world. In the midst of a church which is so often eaten up by tribal conflict within local congregations, by theological feud and by a focus on maintenance rather than mission I would have thought this would be very welcome.
Be in no doubt, we are in the kingdom-building business – and there are many ways in which God’s kingdom can be built.
Please be reassured of our absolute commitment to our core Christian purposes. Of course, the Mission is present across vast swathes of the world, contains individuals of many different approaches and backgrounds and expresses its work contextually. But at its heart remains that simple conviction that God cares for seafarers. In response to His call, we seek to make that a reality.”
In warm friendship to you all as ever.