Last Sunday was Sea Sunday, when the hymn, ‘Eternal Father strong to save’ is sung by seafarers around the world. It is perhaps better known by its other name – ‘For those in peril on the sea’.
My Aunt Teresa had been chief cashier at the Shell (now Essar) Refinery in Stanlow. When she retired, she decided to support the Ellesmere Port Seafarer Centre. She worked as a volunteer cook, dishwasher, cleaner and general supporter for the seamen who arrived from all quarters of the globe to provide us with vital goods. Most were from Indonesia, the Philippines, India and other Asian countries.
Liverpool’s seafarer outreach work dates back to the 19th Century when the Anglican Mersey Mission to Seafarers was founded. From the 1930s, the work of the Anglican mission was was augmented by the Catholic Apostleship of the Sea. The Liverpool Bishops worked together then as they do now.
Today there is a Seafarers Centre in Crosby, North Liverpool and a new centre on the Wirral. Their mission is still focused on providing a lifeline to seafarers, both active and retired, offering a safe and secure place to rest and receive support.
Thirteen Seafarers Centres were established in the 19th Century. Anglican and later Catholic groups set up buildings where sailors could land after long journeys across the oceans and be provided with food, accommodation, support and prayers.
Merseyside was once the largest port in UK and has always been involved with the seafarers’ care. Very little has changed. There may be fewer prayers these days but the centres are still there for spiritual help when seafarers are thousands of miles away from their homes. Their goals have always been charitable, meeting physical and also spiritual needs.
Without the cargoes that these people bring across the oceans, we would lose food, clothes, furniture and hundreds of other items that we take for granted. The Ellesmere Port Centre has now closed but, on the other side of the Mersey, the remaining Liverpool centres carry on this important service to 50,000 seafarers.
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Imagine being at sea, cut off from your family, with no land in sight, exposed to the fierce elements and with an ever-present risk of piracy.
Many of the sailors do not have the money to travel back across the oceans to their homes and families. Donations from Essar’s refinery in Ellesmere Port, the Merchant Navy Welfare Board, the Phoebe Worsley Charitable Trust and many more charities keep the seafarers outreach work continuing.