Christmas in the port of Antwerp as told by port chaplain Brian Millson

27th November 2019

Our preparations for Christmas start at the beginning of Advent with our Christmas Bazaar.  Several hundred people attend it and we have various stalls and services set up and serve a hot lunch and refreshments.

The week before Christmas a group of thirty or so of us get together to make Christmas parcels for the Sailors.  These include such things as nice woolly hats, scarves, cards, hygiene products and perhaps a torch as well as some sweets.

Our big activities are on 24 December and it begins by visiting the ships.  We try and see as many ships as possible and give invitations for our Christmas Eve Mass which is followed by food and a Christmas Party.  A good number, especially those with Crews from the Philippines and India, are preparing for their Christmas Day celebrations on their ships.  We provide bus transport every evening to our Centre and the transport is especially full on Christmas Eve with up to 75 joining us.

We decorate our main hall at the Centre for Christmas as our Chapel is too small for these numbers.  We usually have 7 clergy for the Mass which starts at about 8 pm.  We are a varied group with 3 Lutheran Deacons, a Reformed Minister, an Anglican Priest and 2 Roman Catholic Priests.  They represent the Swedish Lutheran Mission, the German Seamen’s  Mission (DSM), Sailors Society, Mission to Seafarers (MtS) and the Apostleship of the Sea (AoS).  We all take part in the service and the 3 Priests (Anglican and Roman Catholic) concelebrate and distribute the Eucharist.  We are supported with music and a Choir from the local Filipino Congregation.  Ecumenical cooperation is excellent.  One of us does the Homily and we try to not only address the miracle of the Incarnation, but also the fact that the Sailors are missing home and family.  I actually don’t meet many Seafarers who are committed to life at sea out of love for the sea.  Most of them do it so they can give their families a better life.  A Filipino Sailor may be supporting up to 100 members of his family.

After the Mass the Sailors join us for some food and drink and our Christmas Party begins.  The Reformed Minister appears as Father Christmas with some helpers and we have some more singing and the distribution of the Christmas parcels.  It is a very good Evening and the Seafarers really seem to appreciate it.  The congregation includes Seafarers from many countries, but mostly from the Philippines and India.  We try to make it a very special evening for them.

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