An Anglican priest, a Catholic deacon, and a Christian Reformed Minister walk into a room… no, this isn’t the start to a cheesy joke, but rather a typical Monday morning meeting at the Port of Vancouver Seafarers’ Centre. The port chaplains in Vancouver come from different religious backgrounds, but collaborate together in their mission to serve seafarers from across the globe. Hi there, I’m Miranda and I’m going to be their intern for the summer working out of the Downtown and Delta ports. I’m excited to observe, learn, grow, and be the hands and feet of the Church over these next 3 months.

I’ve officially been on the job for a week now and I’m learning what seems like a million new facts every day. Here’s a little taste of some things I learned during my first week in port ministry:

-Ships are really, really, really big – way bigger than they look in pictures
– “Thank you” in Tagalog (the language of the Philippines where more than one third of seafarers hail from) is “salamat”
-A bulk ship, a container ship, a ferry, a cruise ship, and a tanker are all very different things
-Ports are some of the most dangerous places to work….and to follow that: nobody looks good in a hard hat and reflective orange vest
-Sea lions smell really bad
-When you hear the sound of church bells at port it probably just means the priest’s cell phone is ringing
– Spending a day at a coal-loading port means you’ll come home looking like a chimney sweep; your white towels and sheets will end up permanently tinged with a film of dusty grey
-Ecumenical ministry is a beautiful thing

I think one of my biggest takeaways from this week was beginning to understand the work of a port chaplain. I learned that chaplaincy isn’t just praying for people, singing hymns, and holding services. Sometimes chaplaincy is planting flowers to create a small bright spot in the industrial port, feeding the cat who lives at the seafarers’ centre, going to a course about the business of shipping in order to better understand the life of a sailor, or even sorting out mountains of receipts and paperwork. Port chaplaincy is a “ministry of presence”. This means that often a chaplain’s job to just to be a friend and a listening ear and sometimes it’s simply being there to give a smile, a handshake, and an acknowledgement that the world needs and appreciates what seafarers do.

And seafarers do a lot. Another thing I learned this week is that the merchant marine has the enormous task of delivering 90% of all consumable goods across the world. They have no scheduled days off and battle issues like fatigue, loneliness, piracy, harsh weather, and abandonment. I’ve started reading Rose George’s book 90 Percent of Everything and hope to learn from her experience as a journalist travelling for 5 weeks on board a Maersk container ship – read along with me if you’d like: ( ). June 24th-30th is Seafarers Awareness Week, so remember those at sea and take a moment to think of how the banana you’re eating, t-shirt you’re wearing, and chair you’re sitting on got to you.

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