Andrew’s May 2021 blog

15th June 2021
I am not a great one for too much nostalgia.  Many organisations get trapped in their pasts to the detriment of today’s changing needs.  And yet the past is important as well.

At The Mission to Seafarers, we rightly celebrate our history, recognising our proud heritage and the common purposes and values which continue to inform our work today.  I was very pleased, then, to recently receive this picture from our archives in Hull.

In days gone by, MtS chaplains in the UK used to visit lighthouses and bring care and support to the keepers.  This picture shows a visit to Bishop Rock Lighthouse in the 1930s, a tower on a remote, isolated ledge far out at sea off the coast of Cornwall.  I believe what we are looking at is a transfer by a method similar to “breeches buoy” – but I am sure the more well versed of you are going to correct me!  Whatever, it must have been a hazardous, uncomfortable, and probably a rather damp way of making a welfare visit!  I love this picture, though.  The dog collar, the suit, the hat.  I am just a bit disappointed he is not smoking a pipe.  No hard hat, high viz or safety boots in sight (not that I am arguing against health and safety in these changed days – of course not!).  What I most love, however, is the smile. Clearly, this is a man enjoying his work – and revelling in the adventure.

I am reminded of the story of the two men whose hats blow off on a wet and windy day. One is embarrassed and annoyed. He tries to chase his hat without anyone noticing, cautiously and unsuccessfully trying to step on it, only to find it perpetually whisked further down the street. When he does catch it, he moans and grumbles at the mud on it. We can imagine some choice words before he returns in a foul temper to his long-suffering wife. The other man joyfully chases his hat, jumping in the puddles and laughing in his pursuit, not caring at the looks of others around him. He takes his muddy hat back to show his children as a mark of an afternoon of unexpected adventure. He has a story to tell. Surely his is the way to live and work.

The challenges presented to our local teams all over the world are often unusual and frequently difficult. As in the picture, they can include making welfare visits that demand unusual means of access – some of which I have experienced for myself. And many of our teams operate in remote places. Ours is a ministry, a work, like no other. Every day, we are seeing new people, new ships, encountering problems and dilemmas and joys that we might never have expected at the start of the morning. It is work which demands a spirit of adventure and an accompanying grin. Quite apart from anything we might say, or gift we might bring, it is probably that look in our eye and a warm smile that will lift spirits more than anything else.  Those we work with need to know we enjoy what we do and enjoy every person we meet.  That is a powerful thing – and this picture seems to say it all. Certainly, over these last pandemic months, the challenges have been even more prominent and difficult than in normal times.  And yet the spirit of creative adventure and the MtS warm smile has carried us a long way in our care for seafarers – I am grateful to all.

Equally, as I know so often for myself, it is often we who are buoyed up by the smiles and laughter of crew on ships. We sometimes get as much or more in our daily work than we give. It is a wonderful thing.  And this picture reminds us of our ultimate task – to keep a heartfelt smile on the face of seafarers, to contribute to their fulfilment at work and to make their adventures happy ones with good endings and a positive story to tell.  Surely that is our God-given task.

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