One of the small but important historic tasks of Mission to Seafarers’ Secretary Generals has been to say grace before dinner.
It is an honour to do so, and it is a role that continues today, at meals both grand and intimate, formal and informal. Canon Bill Christianson, one of my predecessors, continues to enjoy a strong reputation for his immaculately crafted graces at London events. It is always a pleasure to hear them. The other living former MtS Secretary General, the wonderful Bishop Bill Down, is also a master of the art of graces. I have tried to continue in these eminent footsteps, but in my own style, often using the very worst of doggerel! It is always nice to tailor your graces, personalising them for the occasion. A good grace can make you laugh, although I find people are never quite sure if it is OK to laugh during a prayer – especially before alcohol has fully lightened the mood. However, a good grace can also be poignantly thought-provoking and promote reflection. It can even perhaps connect people of all faiths and none, and all nationalities, with something a little deeper, something one might call “spiritual”. Recently there have been fears, in London anyway, that the tradition of saying grace at dinners might come under threat. I hope not. Whether you regard yourself as “religious” or not, I believe grace is a great way of starting a meal and, at its best, can set a tone both serious and joyful. I hope it is a tradition that my successors will be allowed to continue.
My latest grace was given last night at a dinner held in the stunning setting of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. It was an occasion to celebrate the centenary of the International Chamber of Shipping. As one of the early verses of my grace poem put it (and poem is not an apt word for my paltry and definitely “cheesy” efforts)!
“Free at last from full time Zoom
And gathered in a single room
We celebrate in evening dress
One hundred years of ICS”
The International Chamber has a proud history, and its work during the pandemic, and most recently as a result of the Ukraine conflict, has been outstanding and in the very best traditions of its long story. Of note has been its leadership in driving extraordinary partnerships across the maritime sector, and beyond, as we have responded to the huge issues facing seafarers and the maritime industry. Of note also has been its great support to the maritime charity and welfare sector, including us at The Mission to Seafarers. ICS was integral, amongst much else, to the formation of the Seafarers International Relief Fund, a common fund which remains a really good legacy of the pandemic, now in action again supporting Ukrainian seafarers and their families.
The outgoing Chairman of ICS, Esben Poulsson, is also a Mission to Seafarers Vice-President and has done incredible work in supporting our fundraising during the pandemic and in inspiring many of his friends and colleagues to do so. All these things made it a particular pleasure and honour for me to say grace yesterday.
In my prayer I was able to reflect on the barrier breaking work ICS has done, not just in bringing shipping organisations together but in uniting in common voice and cause those of so many nationalities. It often seems to me that shipping can have a particularly influential and even prophetic role in breaking down the current tribalisms, and misplaced patriotism, which are wreaking so much destruction. It was great to be in a room with so much diversity and yet such a tangible spirit of good will and co-operation. Again, as my grace put it:
“Ahead we see from sea and shore
Inflation, climate change and war
And it seems that week by week
Things become a bit more bleak
So make us wise, O Lord, we pray
In all we do and all we say
Whatever land we call our own
Its common cause that must be shown”
It is my fervent hope that in our own international work, as The Mission to Seafarers, we will continue, as our Christian faith and values demand, to do all we can to be reconcilers, peacemakers and unifiers. To act in this way is to follow in the very best of our own historic traditions.
And now off to write my next Grace – for Esben Poulsson’ s Trinity House farewell dinner tomorrow.
Revd Canon Andrew Wright