Mission to Seafarers

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The audience at the Lit enjoyed an excellent speaker, Tim Turnley, who told them of his role in, and the work of, the Mission to Seafarers in Scotland.

Tim was for 18 years a parish priest in the Episcopal church in a very deprived area. Three years ago he became a chaplain in the Mission to Seafarers, a very different workplace.

Tim exchanged his clerical collar for a hard hat, hi viz jacket and steel toe cap boots as he now spends much of his time in the industrial setting of busy docks and clambering on and off bulk carriers, tankers and container ships.

The Mission to Seafarers cares for the practical and emotional welfare of seafarers whatever their faith or nationality. The service in Scotland does not have to deal with incidents of piracy directly but Tim has met and talked with ships crews who are still suffering the psychological aftermath of having been held hostage.

When he boards a newly docked ship Tim does not know whether he will be welcomed or shunned, whether there are major difficulties or happier problems to solve. Mostly the crew members will only be in dock for a few hours after many months at sea and Tim often has to help them with shopping. Recently he persuaded Argos to stay open late so that a Filipino sailor could buy his wedding rings, and, furnished with the appropriate size information he enlisted the ladies of Oxfam to find a wedding dress for another seafarer to take home.

Tim very movingly described how he helped Mark, a very unhappy 16 year old German cadet. The youngster, on his first voyage, was homesick and lonely, feeling that the Estonian officers didn’t like him and the Filipino crew excuded him by speaking to each other in their own language. Through his fellow chaplains world wide Tim arranged that everywhere the ship docked a German speaker would meet Mark for a chat and to pass on a magazine or newspaper. When Tim next met Mark a year later he had grown in self confidence and was beginning to enjoy his life at sea supported by the expectation of a friendly face in every port.

A life at sea is one thing Tim will not get to try as chaplains always have to return to shore to await whatever challenge the next ship brings.

The next meeting of the Lit on Tuesday, October 30, will bring a welcome return of Valerie Riley for the second part of Women and War. All are welcome. (Isabel Sharp)