SCI Plans Auction Following River Bell Awards Luncheon Cancellation 

The Seamen’s Church Institute has canceled its 2020 River Bell Awards Luncheon due to the coronavirus pandemic, but plans a silent auction along with a direct appeal to supporters to continue its mission.

“Given the unknowns still facing us and in the interest of personal safety, the River Bell Committee members unanimously decided to cancel SCI’s annual luncheon event, which would have been held during the first week of December,” said the Rev. Mark S. Nestlehutt, SCI’s president and executive director. “Nevertheless, our training and chaplaincy services for mariners that help to sustain their essential work is even more important during this increasingly challenging year. Continued support from our training partners, as well as from other maritime companies and individual donors, will make a critical difference in navigating the uncertain year that lies ahead.”

The River Bell had been scheduled for December 3 in Paducah, Ky. It would have been SCI’s 21st annual awards program. SCI expects the event to return next year. 

Nancy Van Epps, SCI’s director of communications, said the organization reached out to several inland marine companies for input before canceling. Ultimately, she said, several companies said they continue to prohibit employees from traveling on business. SCI also considered a virtual event, but committee members instead preferred emailing an outreach letter to past supporters to explain the situation more fully and ask for continued funding for SCI programs, which include chaplaincy, advocacy and education, including simulator and other training through SCI’s Centers for Maritime Education. 

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Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, SCI has continued its Ministry on the River/Ministry at Sea programs. Although chaplains have limited contact with crews as required by social distancing, they continue to make emergency calls as well as to send morale boxes for crews. The Christmas on the River/Christmas at Sea program, which provides hand-knitted items and other gifts, will also continue this year. 

“We’re expecting more knits this year than ever,” Van Epps said, noting SCI’s social media campaign, #Stayhomeandknit, had been very successful.

“The supply is there, and the demand is there, it’s just the logistics are going to be a little more challenging this year,” she said. 

An online auction will be  held November 9-11 at Registration to participate when the auction goes live is already open. Donations are also still being accepted at the site.

The auction is being held in conjunction with the Silver Linings virtual event, a replacement for the Silver Bell Awards Dinner that attracts mainly blue-water mariners. The auction is a chance to bring together both the blue- and brown-water communities to continue to support SCI programs, Van Epps said.

“We had some really generous donors who gave us some really fabulous prizes,” she added.

Items up for grabs include six dugout tickets and a parking pass to a 2021 Houston Astros game, a “Paducah Party Pack” of five gift certificates to restaurants in Paducah and a Peloton bike. Other items include experiences, which may be harder to quantify. They include a two-night ski vacation at either the Jordan Grand Hotel or Grand Summit Hotel at the Sunday River Ski Resort in Maine and a choice of an afternoon sail on the Bermuda Race-winning yacht “Lora Ann” followed by dinner at the Larchmont Yacht Club in Larchmont, N.Y., or participation in a Thursday evening sailboat race followed by sandwiches and beer hosted by the owner, Rich du Moulin, former chairman of the SCI board of trustees.

“Because of the incredible generosity of our contributors, we are able to offer these meaningful and diverse experiences for auction,” Nestlehutt said. “Bidders have the opportunity to purchase a special trip or unusual adventure for their family or business associates to enjoy once COVID restrictions lift, and at the same time, support SCI’s essential services in a tangible way.”

More information on the auction and supporting SCI in other ways is available by emailing