WJ Editorial

This Holiday Season, Remember The Mariner

Thankfully, today’s mariners work in conditions that are safer and more comfortable than ever before. But this is a profession from which risk and discomfort cannot be completely removed. Deckhands must still make and break tows in freezing, wet or torrid weather. Shifting river conditions demand constant attention. A moment’s distraction can still have dire consequences. Boredom and loneliness remain constant challenges.

It is during holidays that working mariners can feel their sacrifice of time away from family most keenly.

Last week, one of our lead stories detailed the important work that the men and women of the Seamen’s Church Institute perform in tending to the spiritual and emotional needs of inland mariners. It is a noble calling that attracts many who have worked in the industry themselves, like Kempton Baldridge, or are still working in it, like Joy Manthey.

One of the SCI’s most long-standing and important missions has been its Christmas At Sea program. As SCI’s website reminds us, “While gift distribution happens during winter months, collection and creation of items happens year-round, and while many gifts go to international mariners working ‘at sea,’ thousands of gifts also go to mariners working on inland waterways here in the United States.” The Christmas At Sea program partners with many churches of all denominations across the country.

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SCI chaplains and volunteers have been delivering holiday boxes to mariners since the Spanish-American War. These used to be filled with little necessities that were harder to find aboard ships or towboats back then. Today’s vessels are well-stocked with necessities, but the scarves, mittens and hats knitted by hundreds of volunteers from SCI’s patterns remain popular. At least as important, though, are the cards with the message that the men and women who staff and serve the invisible arteries of commerce are not forgotten.

The Christmas holiday is an especially good time for Americans to reflect on what we owe inland mariners, and to appreciate those who minister to them, including the thousands of volunteers.