By The Reverend Deacon Janice Maloney-Brooks
“For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” Matthew 25: 35-36.
Of the three kinds of Clergy (Deacons, Priests and Bishops), Deacons have a unique role. We stand on the threshold of the church and the world and are charged with a special ministry of servanthood, directly under the authority of our bishop. In our Diaconal Ordination, we are told “In the name of Jesus Christ, we are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely”.
In addition to our sacramental work in our home parish, deacons go out into the world interpreting the Church’s needs and concerns and hopes of the world. My diaconal work is as a Chaplain and Volunteer Coordinator for the Mission to Seafarers Southern Ontario.
We aim to help them with their needs be they physical, emotional or spiritual.
Our mission is to provide a safe place for Seafarers. We aim to help them with their needs be they physical, emotional or spiritual. Usually, their first request is wifi, in order to connect with their families. Our seafarers, for the most part, are young men and women who treasure their family life, although they go away to work for 8-10 months of the year.
Families, at home far away, can only guess where on the globe they may be until they receive a safe arrival email or call from a wi-fi equipped port. Our seafarers depend on support from home and from our Missions to be able to carry out this dangerous and very necessary work. In fact, we had a great celebration last year! A seafarer, through our wi-fi was able to coach his wife through labour and witness the birth of his child via Skype at our Mission Station in Hamilton.
Providing a home away from home and free wi-fi isn’t all we do. We visit each ship that comes to Hamilton, Oshawa and Toronto. We board the ships bearing bags of chocolates for the crew and the officers. The seafarers are astounded that we climb up the gangways to bring them a gift. In their world nothing is free.
We speak to as many of the crew as we can — remembering it is their place of work and we must be careful that we don’t get in the way! We are also on the lookout for anyway in which we can help pastorally because we are the only people aside from agents and Transport Canada inspectors who go aboard a ship.
We keep an eye and ear open to be sure the crew is well treated and receiving their wages, that there is no abuse aboard, that living condition and food is adequate and of good quality and that they are being paid regularly. We are all well versed in maritime law and seafarer’s welfare.
Mission to Seafarers is working in 200 ports and in 50 countries. There are approximately 1.5 million men and women seafarers working to bring over 90% of the world trade. It is one of the world’s most dangerous occupations. The rate of suicide for international seafarers is triple that of shore workers and they are 26 times more likely to be killed at work. The threat of piracy is also very real.
Our duties can range from counselling a seafarer who is depressed and suicidal to helping a cook find fresh produce to serve the crew.
Our duties can range from counselling a seafarer who is depressed and suicidal to helping a cook find fresh produce to serve the crew. One day we had a seafarer in, asking how to change money. We told him where to go for a decent exchange rate. When he returned he spoke of how pretty our money is -and he took out a dollar bill. We were heartbroken because before he made it to the exchange bureau, a man had changed all the seafarer’s pay for Canadian Tire money.
As a deacon and a chaplain, I am fortunate to spend my days working in a social justice ministry and fully believe that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
The Deacon’s Bench is a regular feature in The Niagara Anglican. Each month we will hear from a Deacon serving a parish under a Bishop’s Letter of Permission. Each will inform us about the ministry s/he conducts in their parish and the wider community. This month’s columnist is The Reverend Deacon Janice Maloney-Brooks of The Church of the Ascension (Hamilton)