Ahoy ‘Ahoy, Port Chaplain coming on board’. This is how I mostly start my ship visit. And yes, mostly I am welcomed on board. But there are also times when my seafarers are busy, with bunkering, or they are doing other work. But their business is for me no problem. Why? Because ‘I know with a smile and a handshake of a duty officer, saying may be ‘next time, if time permits’.For me that is alright.
When did it start: The Port Chaplain Job?
For me, five years ago, there came an opening in a new job and I felt driven to this kind of work. It was building up a new church and a new ship visiting ministry in Port Zeebrugge. I started learning my trade in Port Southampton and Port Antwerp. I had to go through a safety course in the UK from the Merchant Navy Welfare Board. But mostly my work is ‘learning what i am doing’. I like that every time I meet people: the situation, the people, the cultures and questions are different. During my work I noticed there are a lot of people in the Bible which have something to do with the sea. You can think of Noah, Jonah, Paul, the first disciples. The Bible really started to live in the things I first did not notice. I like Psalm 107, 23 which says ‘some people went out at the sea in ships, they were merchants on the mighty waters’.
My Job as Port Chaplain
As a port chaplain, I can be a safe port when I am visiting seafarers on board. In my ship visits the seafarers that i met, I try to give them again the safe room that they can be again who they really are. They are people like us, people with family, with troubles, with questions and people with faith in Christ. The pressure and the responsibility is high. And yes time is money. The Sailors’ Society is the organisation which gives me the structure, the work frame to do my job. The Sailors’ Society is an interdenominational Christian organisation with 60 or more port chaplains worldwide. There are chaplains in Belgium, Indonesia, the UK, Russia, Brazil etc. You can find more about us on www.sailors-society.org
When seafarers have time I try to spend time with them. They ask and I listen. They ask questions about my port and I tell them whatever is possible. I try to invite them to visit the Local Seamen Center too. I give newspapers in the different languages to the people who are on ship, with Christmas there are gifts, in the winter I have lots of free knitted hats and scarfs. I try to tell them that a lot of people respect them because of what they do for us and for their family at home. I have noticed we all look for social contact, a normal conversation, a near or a prayer. Mostly seafarers want to talk to their friends, family when the ships come to port, and so I sell also phone cards, top-ups and if I don’t have what they want I give them the opportunity to buy it somewhere.
Difficulties and What Drives Me?
Mostly people are busy. Sometimes you have the feeling that you break into their working time. The questions comes: what is my place in a place where everything is about making money? I am depending on who I meet, how the situation is on board. What drives me? People are very hospitable and kind. Just a friendly face it makes my day in ship visits.
I learn a lot from them in what is very valuable and important (family, tradition, respect) to them. I give thanks to the people who work in the port, the seafarers who take care for the goods we take for granted in our shops. Thank you also for giving me the opportunity to share their and mine story.
Port Chaplain Sailors’ Soceity
Revd. Alex Eberson