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For Those in Peril on the Sea

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

How many of you attended Sunday School and sang the kids’ chorus “I will make you fishers of men?”

What about the equally venerable “Wide, wide as the ocean”?

Side note: Does any recall the actions? It’s probably best not to join in whilst sitting in crowded pews as we fling out our arms on the words “wide, wide.”

Believe me, Elsie or Gladys do not always appreciate a smack in the face in the pew beside us.

Today we are celebrating “Sea Sunday”—and I promise there’ll be no face punching…

I guess many of you won’t have heard about Sea Sunday—or even know there is such a thing so here’s a bit about the charity that started this off.

Five things you might not have known about this charity.

1. It’s been going for 167 years and works in over 200 ports in 50 countries, caring for the world’s 1.5 million seafarers with a network of chaplains, staff and volunteers.

2. It was begun in 1835 by an Anglican priest, John Ashley—after his son asked him how the people on ships in the Bristol Channel could attend church. He raised funds, and in 1839 a specially designed cutter ship Eirene was built with a main cabin which could be converted into a chapel for 100 people.

3. His work inspired similar ministries in the UK, and it was decided in 1856 that these groups should be formally organised under the name The Mission to Seamen Afloat, at Home and Abroad. Catchy, eh?

4. A couple of years later, the name was changed to Mission to Seamen—and more recently, in our politically correct contemporary culture, it became Mission to Seafarers.

5. As shipping changed from sail to steam, seafarers needed places to go while they were ashore; as ships could now dock at quaysides, they opened centres so that the men could be offered refreshments, reading and games rooms, cheap accommodation and a chapel.

So Sea Sunday was set up to raise awareness and funds for this work, and other charities have begun to be included—like the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen and The Fishermen's Mission.

They all work to help those in need with no questions asked or discrimination—even when they are often targeted by haters for the job they do. Only last month, I heard about the cox of one boat that received vast amounts of hate mail and was ruthlessly targeted for rescuing refugees instead of letting them drown.

We have heard a lot in the news recently about the sea and what’s been happening on it or rather deep down under the sea.

We live in a strange world where more publicity is given to a few wealthy people on a fun trip to see a sunken ship. Yet, hardly anything is said about the 600 or more who died off the coast of Greece when their overcrowded boat sank in the Mediterranean, and only 104 were rescued.

Or the thirty who were rescued near the Canary Islands—where how many others died is unknown.

And not much is said about the fisherman from Tunisia who has had to get used to pulling up dead bodies in his nets—but stoutly refuses to sell his small boat to the traffickers for the extortionate amount they are offering him in case someone should else drown from his boat.

Are our hearts becoming hardened to those in need and to the mess we are making of our planet, with sewage and dredging causing issues not just for the local fishers and tourists and which have knock-on effects for the local businesses?

Only this week, tourists were advised not to swim in the sea at Scarborough. We are connected in many ways to the sea around us as an island. But we keep forgetting that we can’t simply use the sea as a dumping ground…

The Bible has many stories about the sea, from Moses parting the red sea to Jesus sitting on the shore eating fish and stilling a storm. Jesus had fishermen as some of his closest friends.

All biblical travellers knew very well the perils and hardships of land and sea, from Abraham to Paul—who was shipwrecked, if you remember.

Today we may travel differently and in more comfort. Still, many of the challenges are similar to those they faced, even if ours are primarily for pleasure now—but sometimes journeys can take us far from family and friends and from all that is familiar.

They can take us through—or to—remote and inhospitable places. They are often complicated by language and communication difficulties.

They can involve uncertainty, discomfort, delay and sometimes danger.

We can all find reasons to justify not helping someone in need. Sometimes we have to take the risk and put ourselves out there.

We may not have much we can give, but sometimes those with the least give the most and make the most difference in people's lives. I used to live in one of the most deprived areas of the UK, yet the locals were some of the most generous and caring I've ever met.

We can only really help those we listen to, the ones we don’t have barriers against.

It’s so easy to believe the hype about refugees and immigrants and view them in a negative way. There was a recent programme on TV about the Vikings invading the UK, and the presenter did a DNA test to see how Viking he was. It showed he was Western European, part Scottish, part Welsh, part Philippine, with a 7% Viking—which is quite a lot when you consider how long ago they came here.

I'm sure many of us will have a mixture of heritage. My grandfather was Italian, and my parents were from the East End of London, one of the most multicultural places in the UK, where the immigrants first landed and made their initial home.

So let’s remember we are called to love our neighbour and the refugee or immigrant.

And as we think about Sea Sunday, let’s pray for all whose work is on the sea, be it trawler men, sailors or rescue services who risk their lives for us for our food, comfort, and safety.

Lord God, we depend on you for life itself. And we depend on seafarers for many of our daily needs from the other side of the world. Watch over them, keep them from danger, befriend them in loneliness and bring them safely home to those they love. Bless and sustain all who work on the sea and those who help them in their time of need. Help us all to listen to you and to act for you as we are your hands, feet and voice now as we care for those we see in need, in your Name. Amen.

Adapted from a sermon by Sandy Walker at Marske Methodist on June 25th


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