Friday, 14 June 2013

Harwich - Celebrity Infinity

My final day with the Mission to Seafarers was spent in Harwich, visiting the cruise ship Celebrity Infinity.  Although the port of Harwich is approximately a mile from Felixstowe across the estuary (see picture below), to get there you need to travel over 30 miles by Road - rather frustrating when you're so close!

So close, yet so far.  The port of Felixstowe is on the right, and the port of Harwich on the left. 

Getting on board a cruise ship is no easy task, and we went through three sets of security before finally boarding the ship.  Celebrity Infinity is a 91,000 tonne ship, launched in 2001, which can accommodate 2170 passengers, and over 900 crew.  When I worked for the Mission to Seafarers in New Zealand I visited lots of cruise ships, and I would wonder freely around the ship meeting the crew, again things have changed hugely, and it would not be possible to do this any more. Instead we were escorted to the crew mess, where we met with some of the crew.  One of the challenges of a cruise ship is that with so many crew you can only hope to meet a few of them - even if on board for many hours.  One thing that particularly stuck me about being on board this ship was that with so many passengers and crew how were their spiritual needs met?  This is an issue on any ship, but when you have a crew of over 900 it seems even more important, because it is effectively a small floating town.  

Celebrity Infinity

The other thing that stuck me about visiting this cruise ship was how multi-cultural the crew are.  The crew come from all corners of the world, today we met people from Indonesia, the Philippines, Jamaica, Mexico and Ecuador, and I suspect there could easily have been at least 20 to 30 nationalities on board.  

In Harwich there is a small but pleasant seafarers centre, with basic facilities, which is situated on the station platform.  The centre is a few minutes walk from the cruise terminal, and it was good to see that the centre was being well used by the seafarers.

I had an interesting chat with the chaplain, the Revd Simon Davies, about the role of chaplaincy and priesthood.  Many (but not all) Mission to Seafarers Chaplain's are ordained, and when ship visiting Simon always wears a clerical collar, because he feels it often can help open up conversations.  But he did admit that it wasn't necessary to be ordained in order to do this job, because mostly the work entails visiting seafarers on board ships, helping in times of crisis, offering pastoral and practical support - important work, but not something you need to be ordained to do.  

It did make me ponder about the role of priestly ministry and chaplaincy within the Mission to Seafarers, and in what way being a priest going on board a ship may make a difference to say a lay person visiting.  This is something I imagine I'll need to continue to reflect on in the coming weeks.  I also would like to reflect in what way the spiritual needs of seafarers can be met, because this is an important aspect of the Missions work, and what prompted the Revd John Ashley to pioneer this work back in the 1830s - for the history of the Mission to Seafarers please click HERE.

It has been a fascinating week with the Mission to Seafarers, and I'd like to express my thanks to Simon Davies for allowing me to spend this week with him, and to Sister Marian and the staff at the Felixstowe Seafarers Centre who have been so welcoming.  I have loved the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the work of the Mission, and to see the changes that have taken place since I last worked for them, and how they continue to serve seafarers in ports across the world.

For information on how to support the work of the Mission to Seafarers please click HERE.

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