Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Mission to Seafarers

The Mission to Seafarers traces its origins back to the early 19th century, to a young Anglican clergyman called John Ashley.

In 1835 John Ashley was holidaying on the Bristol Channel. Walking along the cliffs one day he noticed a large fleet of sailing ships lying out in the channel waiting for a favourable wind to take them out to sea. He made some enquiries amongst the locals, and was told that no clergyman visited these ships, and so the next day he hired a boat and set sail for the fleet.

Ashley was so moved by the conditions he found the seafarers living in, that he decided to leave parish ministry and devote the rest of his life to serving seafarers.

Over a period of 15 years, John Ahsley visited thousands of ships at sea, taking services, and giving away thousands of Bibles & prayers books to British seamen.

John Ahsley's example inspired other clergy to start similar ministries amongst seafarers in different parts of the country, and in May 1858, The Missions to Seamen, as it was then known, was officially born.

The logo for this newly formed organisation was a Flying Angel. 

The inspiration for this was drawn from Revelation 14:6 "Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people." And it is this verse of Scripture which underpins all that the Mission to Seafarers stands for. The object of the society has always been to care for the spiritual and physical welfare of all seafarers, and to proclaim the eternal Gospel to all people. From this small beginnings in the Bristol Channel, the Mission to Seafarers has grown, and now has full time chaplain's in more than 100 ports around the world, and is represented in some 130 others by honorary chaplains. 

Life of Seafarers

There are approximately 1.2 million merchant seafarers worldwide. 95% of all the goods brought into the UK, come by sea, so seafarers play a vitally important role in all our lives, but despite that the expression 'out of sight, out of mind' could easily be applied to seafarers. 

Thanks to the success of the Fairtrade campaign, we are a lot more aware about where our food comes from, and who produces it. But I suspect that people rarely ever think about the people that bring these goods to this country by sea, and the conditions they have to live and work in.

The life of seafarers is very demanding:

Isolation – the BIGGEST problem, crews away from home for months, sometimes (18 months or more). Little or no contact with families. Miss key events – birthdays, weddings, funerals, religious festivals. Constantly on move from one port to another.

ADDING to problems of isolation are:
  • Small crews – more work
  • Multinational crews – no shared language


Short turn around times in ports – changes in shipping industry mean ships now spending more time at sea. I visited one car carrying which after 2 weeks at sea, spent only 6 hours in port before leaving for its next destination.

Dangerous working conditions – on average 230 ships worldwide are lost every year, this accounts for around 2000 lives. But we rarely hear about this. Imagine the reaction if every single year 37 airliners crashed – you would expect to hear about it. But you don't when it comes to seafarers. 

Flags of convenience – this is the practice of registering a ship in a different state from the ship's owners. For example, the ship might be owned by a Japanese company, but fly the flag of Liberia or Panama. The advantage for the ship owner is that registering a ship under a flag of convenience means cheap registration fees, low or no taxes and freedom to employ cheap labour. But for the seafarers it often means that their basic human rights are not respected or upheld, such as the hours they should work, what conditions on board should be like, how much they get paid and so forth. It is like being able to register a car in Liberia so I can drive it on British roads without having to get the brakes fixed. Some seafarers describe their job is like being 'at prison with a salary'. But the Maritime Charities Funding Commission actually found that the provision of 'leisure, recreation, religious services, and communication facilities is better in UK prisons than on many ships.' 

Piracy – in 2010, 445 incidents of piracy:
53 vessels were hijacked                                 

1181 crew were taken hostage                                

8 crew killed                                     

Somalia accounts for 92% of the 2010 figures                

Economic Downturn – having big impact on shipping industry. Lots of ships being 'laid up' – there is a human cost to this story, skeleton crews left on these ships, with little or no means of escaping.

Ship abandonment –there are currently 112 cargo ships lying abandoned in docks around the world, leaving hundreds of seafarers stranded without pay and with no way to get home. Ships are often abandoned by their owners it they run into financial difficulties, or if ships are detained for breaking safety regulations. It is often cheaper for the owner to abandon the ship than pay for improvements. 

This photo is of the The Most Sky, a Turkish owned ship sailing under the flag of Panama, and lying abandoned in Birkenhead. On board this ship there was a crew of 11 Georgians. The conditions on board were terrible. They had no heating apart from an old kebab grill, the bunks were soaking wet, and the man assigned to catering duties could only cook potatoes. When eventually 8 members of the crew were paid and repatriated, they were arrested in Turkey on false charges.

The role of the Mission to Seafarers

The Mission to Seafarers seeks to care for the spiritual and physical needs of seafarers of all races and creeds. But the heart of this ministry is a desire to share with these seafarers the love of God. In Matthew's Gospel Jesus commended those who feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, looked after the sick, and visited the prisoner. He said "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40). This parable really embodies what the Mission to Seafarers strives to do. 

Mission to Seafarers in 2010 chaplains & volunteers 

Visited more than 76,000 ships 
Dealt with over 400 justice and welfare cases involving 800 seafarers

Welcomed more than 640,000 seafarers to their centres

Provided transport for 680,000 seafarers

Visited nearly 600 seafarers in hospital

Distributed 175,000 Bibles and other items of Christian literature

Helped send 622,000 telephone & email calls on behalf of seafarers

Auckland Mission:

My jobs included:

Ship visiting – friendly face, not demanding anything from seafarers, there only to help & support. The captain of one ship wrote to the chaplain in Mombassa, We cannot say enough how grateful we are for the overflowing warmth and hospitality that was given to us.
Welfare cases – Chaplains are often the first people the crew turn to
- ship came into Auckland with no fresh food or water, we ensured crew had enough food to get to next port & reported ship to International Maritime Authority.
Filipino sailor Lito, came to help, after not be paid. Are intervention helped secure the $2000 he was owed.
Japanese sailor – injured in accident on ship, fearful of leaving ship & loosing job, we were able to contact Chaplain in Fiji – the ships next port of call, to ask them to check on this man.
A seafarer wrote. Recently I was assisted by your chaplain in Thailand who went out of his way to assist me. It makes me feel that if ever there was a problem and I need to discuss something, then your society can be relied upon.
Help in times of personal crisis – floods in Philippines
SHIP ABANDONMENT – providing food & clothes, helping then stay in touch with their families, campaigning on behalf of seafarers to secure their pay and get their repatriated to their families.
- known as 'Flying Angel Clubs' by Seafarers because of the logo. They are a place for seafarers to come & relax, watch TV, or play snooker, or pool. Small shop selling food, cheap clothes, and souvenirs, & book and video library, which the seafarers could take with them to sea. Chapel at heart of centre – a place for seafarers to come &; pray. Cheap phone calls & internet so people can stay in touch with families. The year I was in Auckland we made over 15,000 international phone calls, to over 112 different countries. An average of 40 international calls a day! And we welcomed 22,000 visitors from 95 different countries to our centre.

The Mission to Seafarers Today

As the Shipping Industry changes, so the Mission to Seafarers is also changing in order to continue to meet the needs of seafarers. For example in 2007 Prince Charles launched the MV Flying Angel in Dubai, so they can reach the 100 -150 ships that are moored off the coast of Dubai every day. One Russian Captain said this "There are very few places we can step down from our ship. On the route we are on from Saudi to East Asia. This is the first time I have stepped down from the ship in 6 months."

Increasingly, as ships spend less time in port, chaplains are increasingly taking on board ships mobile phones & laptops so seafarers can contact their families. 

2008 Strategic review - new Centres being developed around the world. For example, the Mission is expanding its work in the port of Belem, which is on the banks of the Amazon estuary in Brazil. And in 2008 two new seafarer's centres were opened in Mangalore & Tuvalu

How you can help

So how can we support seafarers, and the work of the Mission to Seafarers?


In 1 Thessalonians we are encouraged to pray continually. We need to remember the seafarers, and for the hardships they experience for our sake. To pray for them as they spend many months sometimes years away from their families. We should pray for their safety at sea. For those seafarers who are inadequately fed and clothed. Our prayers are important to the seafarers. This is what the crew of the Black Bart, stranded in NZ for three months wrote to the chaplain. We thank you for your prayers that keep us strong to stand in time of our needs. We can't repay for what you've done to us which we can't forget in a lifetime.

Focus on work of Mission to Seafarers on Sea Sunday – every July

Financial Support

The Mission to Seafarers relies upon the financial support that it receives from churches and individuals to enable its work to continue. The money raised helps support mission centres across the world.

The work of the Mission to Seafarers continues day by day, throughout the world, and truly makes a difference to the lives of countless thousands of men and women who work at sea. It is Christian love in action. We depend upon seafarers all year round, it is important that we remember them in our prayers and remember the Church's ministry to them. Master Mariner John Clark said this about the work of the Mission to Seafarers. It is my firm belief that seafarers need the ministry of the Mission to Seafarers more than ever. There are so many abuses perpetrated on seafarers today which the Mission has to deal with and seeks to address. There are also many thousands of Christian men and women at sea who are away from their families and home churches for many months, who rely on the Mission for spiritual support.

Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

To visit the official Mission to Seafarers website please click HERE

Who do you say I am? (Mark 8:27-30)

Throughout life we are faced by lots of questions that require answers – some more serious than others. Yesterday I was looking at some answers that students have given to exam questions:

Q: Name the four seasons.
A: Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.

Q: What happens to your body as you age?
A: When you get old, so do your bowels and you get intercontinental.

Q; Name a major disease associated with cigarettes.
A: Premature death.


Q: How can you delay milk turning sour?
A: Keep it in the cow.

Q: What does the word "benign" mean?
A: Benign is what you will be after you be eight.

Q: What is a turbine?
A: Something an Arab wears on his head.

Q: What is a Hindu?
A: It lays eggs.


In Mark 8:27-30, Jesus asks his disciples a question of the great importance, "Who do people say I am?"

To which the disciples reply, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."

Then Jesus asks another question, the most important question of all, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?"

In asking this question, Jesus gets to the very heart of what matters most, who we think Jesus truly is, and how we respond to him. Because at the end of the day, what matters most is not what others such as parents, grandparents, husbands or wives, friends of neighbours think about Jesus, but what we think.

How we answer this question should shape the rest of our lives. Because a life changing relationship with God begins with the answer to the question – "Who do you say that I am?" The rest of life is a journey – with God – living that confession to the end of this age.

What is your answer to the question "Who do you say I am?"

Friday, 11 February 2011

Reinterpreting the Law Matthew 5:21-37

Our Gospel reading this afternoon forms part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. We have read verses 21 through to 37, but this particular section, which is clearly designed to be read as a whole, runs through to verse 48, and consists of six units of teaching, each introduced by the phrase 'You have heard that it was said… But I say to you….'

In the section we read today we have four units of teaching, where Jesus tackles the issue of murder, adultery, divorce and swearing oaths. We could very easily have a sermon or even a sermon series on each of these different sections of teaching, but today I want to have an overview of the passage.

Jesus is concerned with our attitude to God's law, which Jesus makes clear when he says "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them."  (Mt 5:17)

This raises the important question do the Old Testament laws still apply to us today? In the OT there were three categories of law, ceremonial, civil and moral.

The ceremonial law related specifically to Israel's worship, for example rules about offering sacrifices as sin offerings. Jesus came into the world as the Lamb of God, to die for us on the cross. The apostle John writes 'This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.' (1 John 4:10) So many of the ceremonial laws were no longer necessary after Jesus' death and resurrection. While we are no longer bound by these ceremonial laws, the principles behind them – to worship and love a holy God still apply.

The civil law applied God's law to daily living in Israel, for example how to deal with hired hands, how to treat the stranger, the fatherless and the widows, rules about loaning money and so forth. Our modern society and culture are radically different to that of ancient Israel, so many of these civil laws cannot be followed specifically in our day and age. But the principles behind these commands, such as a concern for justice and fairness and caring for the most vulnerable within our society, are timeless and should guide our conduct.

The moral law, refers to things such as the Ten Commandments, and reveals the nature and will of God, and which Jesus obeyed and upheld, and which still apply to us today.

But Jesus did challenge the enormous legislative superstructure which the scribes and Pharisees had erected as a 'fence of the law', and which placed a crippling burden upon people. For example, the broad principles of the law, such as keeping the Sabbath holy, were encrusted with a thousand rules and regulations, which must have made life incredibly difficult. Just to give you an idea of just how many petty rules and regulations there were, in AD 300 some of the laws from the scribes and Pharisees were codified in the Mishnah, which runs to 800 pages in English. In addition to this, there were commentaries written to explain the Mishnah, which are known as the Talmud. There are twelve printed volumes of the Jerusalem Talmud and sixty of the Babylonian Talmud. Jesus rejects the scribal traditions, and reaffirms the authority of the OT principle, and draws out its implications.

What Jesus was doing, was not doing away with the law as contained in the OT, but giving a fuller understanding of why God made that law in the first place. Jesus gets to the heart of what the law is about. For example, when Moses said, "Don't murder", it is not just enough to avoid killing, we must also avoid anger and hatred, because this is the root cause that can lead to murder. When the law talks about on what grounds a man (and it was the man) could divorce his wife, Jesus challenges us to live faithfulness in marriage. When the law says do not commit adultery, it is not enough to avoid adultery, we must keep our hearts from being lustful, and learn to be faithful. This is what I believe Paul meant when he talks about being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Which is why in his letter to the Philippians he writes "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

Jesus' teaching is direct, to the point, and very challenging. As we listen to his words, we are challenged to reflect upon our own lives, and our values and attitudes. For example when Jesus says "If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell," (Mt 5:29) it is a challenge to examine our lives, and to deal with sin as drastically and radically as possible. Unfortunately the third century theologian, Origen, read this passage literally, and because castrated himself! But Jesus was of course speaking figuratively, calling us to examine our lives of anything that causes us to sin, and taking every necessary action to remove that sin.

Many people were good at following the word of the law, but not the spirit of the law. But Jesus reminds us that God judges our hearts as well as our deeds, for it is in the heart that our real allegiance lies. God is as concerned with our attitudes, which people don't see, as with our actions which can be seen.

The law ultimately convicts us, and reminds us that we all fall short of God's standards. Whilst we may not have murdered someone, which one of us has not felt anger towards another person at some point in our lives? Which one of us has not looked at another person and allowed inappropriate thoughts to fill our mind? Paul reminds us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23), and the apostle John wrote, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8).

But whilst the law shows how we fail God by our actions, it also drives us into the arms of our merciful God. Because in recognising our failings, we throw ourselves on the grace and mercy of God. Discovering our failure to love as God loves is not a cause for despair. No – it is a call back to God, into the arms of God, who loves and strengthens us, and sends us out to love again; bids us love more fully, more perfectly, because although showing perfect love is impossible for us, nothing is impossible with God.

Monday, 7 February 2011


Later this month, we are going to be starting a calling out process to fill the vacancies on the Ministry Team, as well as hopefully calling out one or two people to train as Readers here at St Martin’s.

This morning I want to take the opportunity to talk about ministry in general, and the role of the Ministry Team within the life of St Martin’s, and the calling out process.


Two weeks ago George Fisher the Director of Parish Mission, came and spoke to us, and in his talk he used the analogy of fishing to describe the task of outreach and evangelism.

He said that very often we tend to think of fishing as being a solitary activity, whereas in Jesus’ day, fishing involved a group of people working together as a team to bring in the catch.  

George made the point that evangelism and outreach isn’t the sole responsibility of the vicar, or the gifted evangelist, but each one of us.

In the same way as Christians we are all called into ministry, because ministry is living our lives in service of God, bearing witness to Christ, and this is the calling of every single one of us.
One of the first things Jesus did when he began his public ministry was to call a group of people to be his disciples, and share in his ministry. Jesus wasn’t just a one man band, he clearly saw it as important to involve others in his ministry.  And it wasn’t just the twelve disciples.  In Luke 10 we read that Jesus appointed 72 people and sent them ahead two by two to every town and place where he was about to go (Luke 10:1).  And in Acts 1, we read how Matthias was appointed to replace Judas Iscariot, as one of the twelve disciples.  In choosing Matthias, the apostle Peter says “it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22) 

What is clear is that teamwork is a vital part of life in the body of Christ. God’s work involves many different individuals with a variety of gifts, talents and abilities. There are no superstars in this task, only team members performing their own unique roles. 


God has given His church an enormous responsibility, to make disciples in every nation (Matthew 28:18-20). This involves preaching, teaching, healing, nurturing, giving, administering, building and many other tasks. If we had to fulfil this command as individuals, it would be impossible. But God calls us as members of His body. Some of us can do one task; some can do another. Together we can serve God more fully than any one of us could ever do alone. It is a human tendency to overestimate what we can do individually and to underestimate what we can do as a team! As the body of Christ, we can accomplish more together than we would ever dream possible, working alone. Working together, the church can express the fullness of Christ.


Peter portrays the church as a living, spiritual house, with Christ as the foundation and cornerstone and each believer as a stone. 

While Paul portrays the church as a body, with Christ as the head and each believer as a member. Both pictures emphasize community. One stone is not a building or even a wall; one body part is useless without the others.  It is a reminder that we are the church, and each one of us has an important role to play within the life of the church.  It also reminds us that within our very individualistic world, we are dependent upon one another, and so when God calls you to a task, remember that He is also calling others to work with you. Together our individual efforts will be multiplied, so that collectively we can allow Jesus to build a beautiful house. 


Here at St Martin’s the Ministry Team plays a very important role within the life of the church. 

The Ministry Team is structured around the four core areas within the life of the church.  Prayer and Worship, Evangelism and Outreach, Justice and Care and Teaching and Nurture, with two people representing each of the core areas (eight in total).  In addition there are a number of ex officio members of the Ministry Team, including Phill as Curate, Penny as Reader and myself as Vicar.  In addition one of the Wardens usually attends the Ministry Team meetings. 

The Ministry Team exists, not to do all the work within the life of the church, but to equip, encourage and enable each one of us in our own individual ministry and calling.  Every month the Ministry Team meets to pray together for the life of the church, and to discuss issues that relate the four core areas of evangelism and outreach, justice and care, teaching and nurture, and prayer and worship. 

Having worked alongside the Ministry Team for the past five years, I have seen at first hand the really important role the Ministry Team has in building and growing St Martin’s, and in giving good spiritual leadership.  St Martin’s is growing, and God is doing great things in the life of this church, and I believe a large part of this is down to the work of the Ministry Team.  For example, two key areas of growth are Messy Church and St Martin’s CafĂ©.  Both these initiatives were first discussed and prayed about within the Ministry Team, and members of the MT have taken a leading role developing these initiatives and encouraging and enabling others within the church to be involved with these projects.

We will be starting a calling out process later this month to fill a number of vacancies on the MT, and also to hopefully call out someone to train as a Reader.  Please start praying for this calling out process, that God will place on your heart the right people will be found for this important role within the church. We are not looking for perfect people, but people who have a heart for God and his people; people who are committed to working as part of a team, and who are open to God’s Holy Spirit.  As you pray about this process, pray that God may be preparing the hearts of those he is going to call out from the congregation to serve him in this way.  Please also pray for the existing members of the MT, and all they do within the life of St Martin’s.

And if you are one of the people who is called out, don’t just dismiss it, and say I don’t have what it takes, or you’re too busy, be open to the fact that God may be calling you into a new ministry within the life of his church. 


I started today’s sermon, by talking about the fact that as Christians we are all called to serve Christ, but we are not in this alone, we have one another.

I want to finish with a lesson from the natural world, which can teach us a lot about teamwork and supporting one another.  Most of us have probably seen Geese flying in giant V formations, but have you ever wondered why they do this? 

As each goose flaps its wings it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
Lesson: We achieve much more, when we work together, and support one another. 

When the lead bird gets tired it will rotate to the back in order to rest and another bird will take its place.
Lesson: It is wise to share the difficult work and leadership responsibilities. Like geese we are dependant on each other’s abilities, capacities, gifts and talents.

The geese at the back of the formation “honk” encouragement to the birds in the front to help them keep a flying rhythm.
Lesson: Let’s be sure that our “shouts” are ones of encouragement. Any group becomes more productive when there is encouragement.

When one goose is sick or wounded and falls out of formation, two others stay with it in order to protect it. They remain until the sick bird is ready to rejoin the flock. 
Lesson: Like geese let us stay close to one another in both difficult and good times.