For those in Peril ….

Homily by Rev John Marcon presented at Holy Trinity Cathedral, SEA SUNDAY, Sunday 8 July 2018

Psalm 107: 23 – 32 Acts 27: 27 – 32, 39 – 44   Mark 4: 35 – 41

We sing ‘’Whose arm hath bound the restless wave – for those in peril on the sea’ and those whose voice the waters heard and hushed their raging at they word – o hear us when we cry to thee.

You may have stood on the tiny deck of an ancient sailing ship in a maritime museum and wondered why anyone would venture out into the wild waters, dependant on the stars for navigation and lacking Harrison’s reliable chronometer. You may have wondered how they ever found their way anywhere at all. Yet the courage required of those early nautical adventurers confounds us.

The Vikings rowing their open boats through the near-freezing waters across thousand mile journeys around most of the Arctic circle – they were at least unhindered by helmets with horns – they were the creation of an American cartoonist. The extraordinary sailors who ventured in their double-hulled waka from Java out into the vast unknown discovering first the mid-Pacific islands then down to landfall in Aotearoa guided by stars and wave patterns, reading the skies, following the bird flight patterns.

We might take comfort from the fact that modern ships seem too big to be at risk, too well-furnished with amazing navigational aids to ever founder.

These giant ships may seem invincible yet the Rena incident has taught us as long as people remain aboard ship human factors can defeat the most comprehensive electronics.

From the security of the land, we may analyse the reactions of the disciples as they fought their fearful way across the Lake Galilee as the journey unfolds before us in John’s Gospel.

How often have we felt Jesus was asleep while we battle the storms of our lives yet surely the essential truth was that he was not only with them but had full confidence in their ability to see them all safely to shore.

The real miracle of this story is surely the faith, the trust God has in us.

There’s no anger like that borne of fear so instead of marvelling at the faith Jesus has in them the disciples rebuke him angrily for not caring.

We should be cautious in blaming seafarers – there are few more demanding roles on land or sea. Multiple skills spread among fewer crew members on ever-larger vessels increase pressure upon them.    Climate change reveals increasingly violent storms amid changeable weather, tidal and current patterns.

Twenty years ago I ventured from Vava’u to Nuku’alofa in Tonga on the Loto Ha’angana – a captured Korean fishing boat pressed into service as an inter-island ferry. On board I cast about for a source of life jackets finding only an old life ring so heavy I would not have dared to have used it.

Instructions in Korean adorned various parts of the ship. However, as we moved down the harbour a prayer was offered to us over the P.A. system for the safety of our journey. I observed to a woman standing beside me that I would have preferred a collection of easily discovered life-jackets to a prayer and was promptly put in my place

“Sir, this ship has never sunk!

I deemed it imprudent to reveal that I was a priest.

Seafarers of several nations live and work together beyond their family and local community support and although advocacy from maritime labour and safety organisations and seafarer missions have seen considerable improvements for seafarers’ terms and conditions there is always more to be done for the seafarers upon which we are all critically dependent. We’ve had seafarers arrive in our centre down on Quay Street exhausted after a Tasman crossing so rough that sleep was near-impossible. Ships have arrived with so much  damage to 20 millimetre steel plate that repairs were required before leaving port. 21st Century seafarers remain in the category of those for whom we cry to God ‘for those in peril on the sea’

94% of world trade is conveyed by merchant shipping – at any time more than the population of New Zealand is at sea on merchant ships. Add the international and inshore fishing fleets and the numbers more than double. Add further the naval defence forces, search and rescue vessels, harbour and police boats and the numbers become greater again.

Merchant seafarers arriving in New Zealand ports represent almost every nation on earth especially those from southern Asia.

Our Seafarer Centre in Auckland continues its Christian mission of welcome and hospitality, of chaplaincy and advocacy to an ever moving congregation of Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, Communist, Atheist and Animist believers. Our Centres enjoy the trust of all seafarers for while we are unashamedly Christian we respect the faith or non-faith of those who rely on our safe haven ashore and the availability of communication services, a place to relax, for a chaplain or volunteer to listen to them. They may wish to change currency, play pool, to contact family.

You may observe the regular procession of shipping arriving to, and departing from, this city or watch fascinated as the merry dance of straddle carriers off-load the goods we need and re-load ships with the production of our farms and factories to deliver around the world.

Remember the men and women whose expertise empowers international trade. Pray for them and for their families, and for our Seafarers Centres around the ports of our nation. Remember the chaplains and volunteer staff and the boards of management.

In most of the near-300 ports world-wide the Catholic Apostleship of the Sea/Stella Maris, the Anglican Missions to Seafarers and the Protestant Sailors Society function as a partnership of Christian grace and outreach moved by the gifts of God’s love so freely imparted to us all, united by our love and respect for seafarers upon whom we all depend so vitally for the functioning of our world and so remembering all who serve us through ships of every kind we pray and give God thanks for those in peril on the sea.

Reverend John Marcon,
Retired Chaplain,
The Mission to Seafarers,
Auckland International Seafarers Centre