I have recently moved to a different office in St Michael Paternoster Royal. Every time I look up I encounter the picture on the opposite wall. There he stands, John Ashley; stern, bearded and collared, gazing purposefully ahead of him. I am grateful that his gaze is off to the left and not looking straight at me. I would probably find that deeply uncomfortable! What would our founder make of today’s Mission? What would he make of today’s seafaring community? Much he would recognise. Much would be new. Like so many founders he was a man of huge energy, vision and dynamism, three of the qualities I most admire and ones as applicably vital to us as they were then. His was a missionary zeal of the old kind. By the time ill health finished his ability to carry out practical work Ashley had visited over 14,000 ships, many of them, of course, out at anchor. It is an impressive record. He might have found our new ship visiting “app” very helpful! In this 160th anniversary year I have been taking a look at some of our history. In reading about John Ashley I also came across a story from a slightly later period – the 1880s. A pastoral call was made by the Rev Thomas Treanor. The ship was visited at sea, far out in an anchorage, accessed by a small launch. It took place in the midst of a storm. The descriptions, and drawings, of this visit suggest that it was extremely hazardous. As the chaplain climbed a swinging rope in the midst of a howling gale to a violently pitching deck high above, a voice from a seafarer at the rail above was heard to say, “There must be something in religion!” How pleased John Ashley would have been, driven as he was by that fundamental Christian purpose that still lies at the heart of what we do.
I am enormously privileged to be Secretary General of the large and incredible global family that is The Mission to Seafarers. Every time I go to a port, as I did just last week to Falmouth and Fowey in Cornwall (Photo of Seafarers in Falmouth Seafarers’ Centre) and as I will do to many other ports around the world by the end of this year, I am reminded of the amazing ways in which our efforts so often change, and sometimes transform, seafarers lives. There are so many good stories to be told. I have been especially pleased in these last months by the creation of new seafarer’ family projects in the Philippines, in Ukraine and most recently in Yangon, Myanmar. I congratulate all of those involved in these entrepreneurial endeavours which are already demonstrably making a difference to so many. Of course, it remains a primary concern to support and encourage existing work, to ensure its relevance and effectiveness. However, we are also focused on developing new streams of work, new port ministries, new projects. We are open to explore any new possibilities that might be of real help to seafarers in a fast changing maritime world. In particular we want to work with local churches and communities to support them in taking the lead in mission to seafarers and their families. Regional Directors, and all the team here at IHQ, are wanting to ensure an environment in which creativity, entrepreneurialism and new ideas can flourish. That surely would bring a smile and a nod to the stern face of John Ashley.
Last week I spent two days in the company of the leaders of the ten Partner Missionary Agencies of the Church of England. Mission to Seafarers is proud to be one of them and one of a number which work throughout the Anglican Communion. It is always interesting and inspiring to hear stories of what is going on in other societies. Everyone brings a slightly different approach and we learn much from each other. Our approach in The Mission to Seafarers is very holistic. Our ministry takes so many different forms and our care mainly finds very practical expression. I believe that to be absolutely in the spirit of the gospels. It is a work in which we value many different partnerships, such a diverse team and such a range of supporters. We exist for all seafarers and their families, regardless of faith, background and culture. We act always with respect, sensitivity and with integrity. I am constantly being told just how much that approach is valued and appreciated. We should never be in doubt , however, that this organisation, initially formed by the missionary passion of John Ashley and others, has a deep Christian purpose at its heart. The love and kindness we share is that which we see in Jesus. And what a tribute to our work it is if our contact with seafarers stirs again that comment.“There must be something in religion!”
Best Wishes for Easter,