Andrew’s December Blog 2023

19th December 2023
One story I have heard today already.

Our chaplain in one country was contacted in relation to a seriously ill seafarer (an officer) who is having to be taken off a ship to be repatriated to India for emergency surgery. His wife is also on board. The authorities have said, however, that she cannot travel with him as she does not have a relevant visa for the country where he is being landed. The next port is three weeks away and it looks as if she may be stuck on the ship while her husband is going through traumatic medical treatment. It appears to be a breakdown in common sense and basic humanity. Our chaplain is busy advocating with all relevant parties, and we hope and pray for a good outcome – but the time window is very short. Just one more example of the abundant challenges facing seafarers, which always felt more acutely as we approach Christmas.

Our Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was once again a wonderful celebration of seafarers, of their families and of the fantastic work of our Mission to Seafarers teams during 2023 – with a special focus on our Africa Region. As ever, it brought together the full breadth of our supporters, and the lesson readers represented many facets of Mission life and partnership. Once again, the service was graced by the presence of our President, HRH The Princess Royal, and by her husband, Sir Timothy Laurence. This year, as ever, she has done so much for us and already we are looking forward to her visit to Sri Lanka in January. The Lloyd’s Choir sang brilliantly, and All Hallows by the Tower Church and Trinity House continue to be a winning combination for the service and reception respectively.

In listening to those well-known stories, it is that of the wise men that has really struck me this year. As far as we can tell from the narratives, they had had a very long journey of many months – and a long homeward road as well. Given that they are said to have arrived sometime after the birth of Jesus, they were “on the road” at Christmas itself, undergoing all the challenges of being far from home and removed from all their usual support networks – just like so many seafarers on Christmas Day itself.

A working day like any other, although no doubt there will be a bit of limited feasting and partying on many ships (which can be challenging with the smaller crews of today, with so many on shift, and so many sleeping at any one time). I have no doubt that the wise men experienced friendship, support, and unexpected hospitality at times on their journey. I am so proud that our teams across the world are particularly and necessarily proactive at this time, when seafarers can feel their isolation and distance from family most acutely. I read of one team this week who are giving out 10,000 Christmas presents. That is remarkable but replicated in some measure across so many of our ports. Those gifts will be accompanied by kindness, friendship, and the practical support that are offered on all our ship and Centre visits.

The wise men were not disappointed. They found what they were looking for, although even they may not have understood at first meeting the full blessing that the baby Jesus was to be. We pray that seafarers and their families may know that Christmas blessing, hope and peace which Jesus came to bring.

I myself will be at sea this Christmas doing my first-ever cruise chaplaincy. I look forward to celebrating Christmas with passengers and with the crew.

Wherever you are, at home or on the road, may you also know that blessing and I trust you will have a very happy Christmas indeed.

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