In 1836 the Reverend John Ashley, looked out his window at the Bristol Channel. There were many steam and sailing ships at anchor and many more docked. Struck by the loneliness and spiritual needs of seafarers; Ashley founded the Bristol Channel Mission. Over the next 20 years several Anglican ministries followed and in 1856 the Mission to Seamen became a missionary society of the Anglican Communion.
Today, a Mission to Seafarers (MtS) Station is open somewhere on the globe – 24 hours per day and 365 days per year. Working in over 200 ports across 50 countries, we care for seafarers of all ranks, genders, nationalities and beliefs. Growing over the past 184 years, MtS has become one of the largest welfare agencies in the world. “The Mission” in Hamilton has been open for over 60 years and now under the direction of the Rev. Judith Alltree, the Mission to Seafarers Southern Ontario (MTSSO) now supports seafarers in three ports (Oshawa, Toronto and Hamilton).
Last year we were nominated for the Best Seafarers Centre in the world. Without the help and support of our dedicated volunteers, we wouldn’t be the success we are. Our mission is to care for the shipping industry’s most important asset: its people!
We are there to support seafarers when they need us most. The men and women who work at sea can be affected by any number of problems: money worries, mental health issues and loneliness as well as piracy, shipwreck and abandonment. We have a large network of chaplains and volunteers who give seafarers a listening ear, resources and prayer, if requested.
“This time of year, y’all have a hard water problem!” a Houston MtS volunteer told me and indeed from Christmas to the beginning of April the St. Lawrence Seaway and our ports are closed. However, we use this time for education, training and planning. During our winter 2020 season, we invite you to join our volunteer ranks. Currently, we have volunteer opportunities as Hosts, Minivan Drivers, Ship Visitors and Board Members.
Our Mission Stations give seafarers free access to wifi, a chance to buy SIM cards, toiletries, souvenirs and even treats. Wifi is incredibly important to modern seafarers as most are working away from home for 8-10 months of the year. A great many of them are young married people, often with very young children. Because our mission is there, they are able to read bedtime stories to their children on skype and talk about the day’s happenings with their partners on What’s App.
Being a Host at a Mission Station is some of the most important work we do! Hosts create a warm and engaging environment – a home away from home. Most of the seafarers we have in Hamilton are from India, the Philippines and Russia and the ability to speak any of these languages is a huge asset but not necessary! Besides being able to help with resources, our Hosts make coffee and engage our seafarers in conversation. A great many of our visitors learned about Niagara Falls and our Hosts work with taxi companies to provide vans to take them for a visit.
Minivan Drivers pick up seafarers at their ship’s gangway and bring them not only to our Mission Station but also to various stores to help the crew replenish necessary stores or to get OTC medications etc. Some of our best pastoral work is done during these rides. Seafarers may talk about their faith, their feelings and what is going on aboard ship. No special driving license is necessary.
Ship Visiting is a very special form of volunteering. After extensive training, volunteers are paired up and board over 700 ships per season. Ship Visitors bring friendly faces full of welcome. Bearing a bag of chocolates, Ship Visitors let each new ship’s officers and crew know they are among friends. A good listening ear and an engaging spirit are necessary for this type of work.
We are always on the lookout for people interested in joining our Board of Directors as well. In all our interactions we follow the example of St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words”. We have a strict no proselytizing policy and assist seafarers from all nations and religions.