Andrew’s November blog

22nd November 2021

At a recent conference I attended, one of the speakers was the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.  The overall theme of the conference was “lament”.  Lament is a strong theme within Jewish and Christian traditions and is prominent in the Old Testament.  It is very different from complaint or grumble.  To lament is to reflect clear-eyed, and with deep compassion and sorrow, on the sadness and injustice of the contexts in which we so often find ourselves.  And “good” lament does not stop at that.  Properly, it is linked to action aimed at addressing and transforming the issues. The Archbishop pointed to the opening chapter of the Book of Lamentations.  The writer paints a picture of the devastated city of Jerusalem and asks a question: “Is it nothing to all you who pass by?”  

The picture of the world revealed by the pandemic should have us asking the same question: “Is it nothing to all you who pass by?” The Archbishop spoke of the things that we have “noticed” during COVID, perhaps for the first time.  He spoke of the frontline workers in health, social care, rubbish collection, and so much besides.  Many of these are poorly paid and often taken for granted.  Disparity between work and reward has been very clearly seen.  He spoke of inequalities in treatment, in voice, in security, in reward.  It is a time to look, to listen and to lament.  It is a time to link that lament with action and build what the Archbishop described as a true “inclusiveness”.  Vaccine imbalance across the world is just one very obvious way in which a lack of true inclusiveness is demonstrated.  

Seafarers are, of course, amongst those essential groups who have been “noticed”, at least a little more than usual.  Something of the challenges they face in terms of treatment, voice, security and reward have become very visible and apparent.  There has been genuine lament, I believe, on the part of many in the industry and beyond.  And very many have followed lament with swift and often vigorous action.  However, they have faced many hurdles.  My fear, as we move into the next phase of the pandemic, both in general terms and in terms of seafarers, is that normality returns, laments fade, and lessons of the pandemic are not applied for the longer term.  Already in many sectors we see continued or even growing unfairness.  The greatest tragedy of this enormous event in human history would be to forget and to drift back into the old normal without addressing our laments for the long term.  I hope that we at The Mission to Seafarers can continue to give voice to the laments we see so clearly, maintain a commitment to “inclusiveness” and play our part in linking lament with action.  

I cannot leave a blog this month without mentioning COP 26.  Here too there is much to lament.  Here too the call for action is deafening.  Quite apart from our basic responsibilities to future generations within a common humanity, the Fifth Mark of Mission commits us to safeguarding the integrity of creation and to “sustain and renew the life of the earth”.  I am delighted that a new working group has been formed and is already meeting.  It contains representation from across the global Mission.  Ideas are already emerging.  At the same time, we are beginning our journey of looking very closely at the ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) agenda, now so prominent across the shipping industry and far beyond.  We are taking a hard look at our responsibilities in all these areas.  Environmentally, there is very much to look at.  What urgent action can we take in relation to the carbon footprint of our Centres and our significant fleet of vehicles?  What about the use of plastics?  What implications are there for our travel?  Be in no doubt that we are absolutely committed to urgent and major change.  I believe this will be a commitment shared by every Mission team, however diverse.  There is no choice, and there is little time.  

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