The Seamen’s Church Institute has reassured supporters in an emailed bulletin and website message about its ministries’ continued operation as the world responds to the coronavirus pandemic.
SCI has four campuses: in New York City; the Port of Houston, Texas; Paducah, Ky.[ and Port Newark, N.J., and its work touches 18 states as well as the Gulf and East coasts. While situations and responses by state, municipal and local health authorities vary state to state, SCI continues to monitor advisories and implement operational changes as needed, according to information provided March 20 by President and CEO Mark Nestlehutt on SCI’s website, seamenschurch.org.
SCI has temporarily closed its New York and New Jersey offices in response to edicts from the governors in those states as well as to do its part in “flattening the curve” of COVID-19, said Nancy Van Epps, director of communications for SCI. However, she said, both brown water and blue water chaplains are still committed to responding to emergencies with face-to-face contact when requested.
“We are actively seeking ways to continue our support during this worldwide crisis, while respecting the safety recommendations and restrictions issued by government and health officials,” Nestlehutt wrote on the website. “We are also boosting our protocols to protect staff and volunteers.”
Nestlehutt said in an emailed bulletin to supporters March 26 that he wanted to personally thank them for their prayers, good wishes and financial offerings. He also wanted to talk about some new programs that will allow SCI to continue its work.
SCI is continuing its Ministry on the River, led by chaplains Kempton Baldridge and Thomas Rhoades, augmented by 35 river chaplain associates. They are reaching out by phone and video chat to check on mariners on a regular basis throughout the day, Nestlehutt said. They also continue to respond to pastoral emergencies on boats, when needed, as do SCI’s Port Newark chaplains. The Ministry on the River is still responding to calls to its toll-free number at 800-708-1998 as well as emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SCI has also begun a Virtual Ministry for Seafarers, a new social media initiative staffed by chaplains and working with SCI’s International Seafarers’ Center director Timothy Wong. They are also reaching out to seafarers via email in instances where they already have established contact information and relationships.
Other solutions for users’ needs are also in development, he said.
SCI is also expanding its offerings for the future. On March 19, the executive committee of the board of trustees approved the construction of an additional bridge for SCI’s Center for Maritime Education in Houston, bringing the total to five.
“The new bridge will allow us to run simulations of a large ship with up to four attending tugboats in feasibility studies,” Director Capt. Stephen Polk said. “With this increased capacity, we will also have the ability to conduct medium- to small-sized feasibility studies at the same time as our maritime training. As long as we adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols, now is the perfect time to build without disruption to our training schedules.”
Also in the bulletin, Nestlehutt talked about reading that at least 175 million people in 17 states, 28 counties and 10 cities are being urged to stay home, amounting to half of the United States’ population in isolation and practicing social distancing.
“Yet, even as we are physically separated, we are confronting our new normal together, sharing many of the same experiences and undergoing the same anxieties,” Nestlehutt wrote. “As human beings, we yearn for community and connection. In order to overcome the feelings of isolation that accompany home confinement, people are discovering creative ways to connect through virtual dinner parties and cocktail parties, joint movie-watching while on FaceTime, or even remote gaming with a friend.”
Nestlehutt also reminded those receiving the email that while the quarantine may be novel for readers, isolation is one of the greatest challenges to seafarers and mariners, even in the best of times. “The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated those issues of isolation, loneliness and family separation for the mariners we serve,” he said.
In its nearly 200-year-old history, Nestlehutt talked about the organization and its ministries continuing despite other challenges, including two world wars, the Great Depression and the 9/11 attacks.
“In this time of uncertainty, I want to assure you that we at The Seamen’s Church Institute remain focused on our mission and are steadfastly committed to those men and women we serve in the maritime industry,” he said. “As we accomplish our mission, we have taken actions to mitigate the risks to our staff and colleagues. We may be physically separated, but we remain in this together.”
Caption for photo: In a pastoral response adapted to the realities of the global pandemic, Senior River Chaplain Kempton Baldridge transfers two parcels to Brandon Land, supervisor at Ingram Barge Company‘s warehouse in Paducah, Ky., for further delivery to an Ingram towboat crew on the Lower Mississippi River. With all vessel visits curtailed, chaplains must communicate their care and concern for crews by different means. Thus, after learning of a crewmember’s death earlier in the day, Chaplain Baldridge packed up the flag of the U.S. Merchant Marine to fly in the mariner’s memory and a large morale box loaded with books, DVDs, dental kits, snacks and prayer books for his shipmates, ever mindful to observe “social distancing” protocols. (Photo courtesy of Seamen’s Church Institute)