The Seafarers’ Mission in Saint John began in the mid 1970’s when a group of individuals called the ‘Shanty Men’, provided fellowship to individuals in need. In 1976 the Anglican Church became involved and the Mission was housed in temporary quarters in Shed #8 at the Port. In 1978, a new Board of Directors was formed and two commercial trailers were donated for a more permanent home for the Mission.
The new Mission officially established its charter on June 5, 1980 with the mission statement: “To enable the love of Jesus Christ, in ecumenical Christian fellowship to meet the spiritual, mental, social and physical needs of Seafarers from all nations”.
Eventually the Mission received support from the Seaman Services Committee of the YMCA and the Royal Order of Wharf Rats. This new group requested support form the International Transportation Federation (ITF) Seafarers’ Trust (a worldwide organization with an interest in protecting the plight of seafarers). The ITF donated $100.000 and on November 3, 1992 the Mission moved into a new building, which is its current location at 92 Tilley Lane on the west side of Saint John.
The ITF has also granted money for the Mission to purchase vehicles in the past. In 2005 they donated money for the Mission to purchase a new van for transporting seafarers to and from various points in Saint John.
As a result of a focused and successful fundraising initiative in 2006, the Mission renovated the building and added a small Chapel. This in addition to the hiring of a Chaplain was to enhance the spiritual services the Mission provides for the seafarers.
In 2012 the ITF Seafarers Trust gave the Mission a grant of $22,178 to refurbish the Mission. With these funds we were able to renovate the interior of the Mission by replacing all the flooring, replace all the woodwork, painting all the ceilings, replaced the back deck and enhanced the seafarers experience by installing a new front covered deck that has seating and electrical outlets.
Also in 2012 with donations from Atlantic Towing and the Port of Saint John the 20 year old roof that badly needed replacement was replaced.
The Saint John Seafarers’ Mission works in association with several world wide organizations, among which are:
North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA)
International Sailors’ Society Canada (ISS)
Mission to Seafarers – Flying Angel
International Transportation Federation (ITF) Seafarers’ Trust
An Early History of the Mission –
In the Port of Saint John there lingered a spirit, an unseen remembrance, almost a legend. The name Stuart Smith had been on many lips and was fondly remembered as a man who walked the docks and terminals of the Port, bringing Christ to the seafarers. Stuart Smith was a missionary in a group named the Shantymen, who had their beginning as missionaries to those who worked in the logging camps of the North. Stuart, who was known by many, but one whom I had never met, faithfully for years went on board ships bringing the message of salvation to the men who worked on the boats, both seafarers and longshoremen. It was with this same intent that the Anglican Church Army in 1976 became involved in this ministry on the ships. They were represented by Capt. Ed Coleman and first assisted by some active members of the Christian Reformed Church in Saint John. Our first committee had a longer name – the Committee to Promote Christian Ministry Amongst Seafarers in the Port of Saint John.
In 1978 I had the privilege of receiving the torch to carry on as chaplain and about a year later was released to perform this ministry on a full time basis. For six and a half years I was able to witness the founding and establishing of a new enterprise on the docks of the West Side. We became officially incorporated in June of 1980 as the Seafarers Mission. After having to disband a somewhat dysfunctional Board, I ended up with an effective and committed group of people who were blessed with great cooperartion from Port officials to ensure that this new ministry became a permanent fixture in the Port for the benefit of all seafarers. Our thanks must always go to people like Gordon Mouland, Garnett Phinney, Fred Haslam, Harold Mallory, John Addison and later on Capt. Al Soppitt, all of the Port Community, who gave so much of their time and effort to support the work.
The warehouse known as 8 Shed adjacent to the Brunterm Container Terminal was a dismal place. One had to walk among the rats and raccoons, often in the semi-darkness, to mount a staircase to two small rooms which then formed the base of our Mission. It actually was nothing more than a place to store our literature and supplies and to accomodate a telephone, which was the most commonly used service by these men separated from family and friends for months at a time. Yet we were deeply grateful for that small place, for it gave us a beginning, a foothold, from which to grow and progress. Due to the kindness of Fred Haslam of Brunterm Ltd., we were given the use of two ATCO trailers which were located just to the south of the present site of the Mission, by the CPR rail lines. The witness of the Mission to the community was enhanced by our Annual Blessing of the Waters Service, one held at Market Square in the city centre, another on the wharf by 12 shed, and another in the Immigration Building on the West Side.
We had a slate of 35 volunteers, formed by many friends and supporters, among them the Company of Master Mariners. So it was that through the goodwill and concern of many we saw God’s hand in leading and establishing this part of his kingdom in our Port. During the late 70’s and early 80’s the Port had a lively flow of ship traffic and many meaningful contacts were made with seafarers from all over the world. By necessity, I found myself offering the most support and pastoral concern to those of the third world who worked in less than adequate conditions, often exploited by their companies as cheap labour. Now, more than ever before, the Mission is accessible to seafarers due to our proximity to the main gate on the West Side.
This year we celebrate 30 years of ministry and growth but we do not celebrate only the past, we must express our gratitude for the present and develop our vision for the future. As the internal dynamics of the Port change constantly, with the changes at Lower Cove, Long Wharf, the advent of the Cruise Ship operations, the developments of the LNG, Canaport and Courtenay Bay operations, so the Mission must be open to meeting those changes and staying current with the best ways of serving those on the ships. May they always see here an open place and an open heart where they can find a home away from home.
Rev. Canon Capt. Keith Osborne