As ever this Christmas, everyone connected with The Mission to Seafarers is reflecting on the realities of the season for so many crew and their families.
Christmas, with its jollities, its gifts, and its emphasis on the coming together in celebration of family and friends, is inevitably a time when seafarers and their loved ones at home can feel the pain of separation particularly acutely. That fact can in itself bring other vulnerabilities and worries to the surface and make for a difficult time. Of course, we do not forget that many shipboard communities will have their own celebrations. The cook will do something special, carols may be sung, no doubt the karaoke machines will be out in force, and laptops may bring a share of Christmas movies. There may even be gifts. But it is not quite the same; in fact, very much not quite the same as sharing it with family. (Albeit Christmas stresses in some households ashore may lead some to wish they were far out at sea. How ironic.)
I have already seen the evidence in my travels around ports of the time that our port chaplains and their teams will be giving to ensure the best Christmas they can to those they encounter. Most will be working right over the Christmas period. I have already seen the piles of nicely wrapped presents in my travels around ports, often prepared lovingly by volunteers in local communities. These signs of love and care will be taken aboard right across the world in vast numbers. Books on the Mission’s 166-year history are redolent with the importance of Christmas ministry, and it is a vital tradition that has been sustained through the years.
Seafarers and their families were, of course, the absolute focus of our Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols held recently. We had the largest numbers for some time, a full house, with the Trinity House reception afterwards at full capacity. We were joined, once again, wonderfully, by HRH The Princess Royal, who read one of the lessons. Other distinguished readers were drawn chiefly from the maritime industry in one form or another.
The Lloyd’s Choir sang for us, beautifully, and All Hallows by the Tower – a church long associated with merchant shipping – made for a marvellous setting. Our MtS East Asia Region was a particular focus this year and it was good to have Regional Director The Revd Canon Stephen Miller with us from Hong Kong, together with our MtS Singapore Chaplain, Soon Kok. Many commented on the depth and gravitas of the service, and it was a great opportunity to pause in gratitude for all that seafarers and their families give and sacrifice, and to reflect with thankfulness on our MtS teams across the world.
As ever, on that occasion it is hearing and singing about the shepherds out in the fields that I find most moving. The bond between them, away from their families and the Bethlehem parties, and seafarers out on the remote sees keeping their own watch is striking indeed. It is our hope and prayer that they in their turn will sense something of the singing of the angels this Christmas, something of the peace and goodwill of which they spoke.
Our amazing teams across the world, after an extraordinary year of often highly creative service in the most testing of circumstances, will be doing their very best to keep the angels’ song alive, before and throughout the Christmas period. Perhaps this is a little sign of those famous Carol Service words from St John’s Gospel – “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”. At the end of a pretty dark few months, my hope and prayer – for those on land and sea – is for light and hope. Thanks to all who help us bring that light and hope to seafarers.
Happy Christmas to all.