By Portfolio Editor Roz Hamlett and Lenis Rodrigues, Media Relations Staff
Located on Export Street in the heart of Port Newark, amid the bustling trucks and stacks of cargo containers, a little-known oasis awaits mariners who work aboard the big ships: the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI).
Thanks to the interfaith pastoral care provided by The Rev. Marjorie Lindstrom, SCI’s Senior Port Chaplain and The Rev. James Kollin, mariners from around the world can enjoy a bit of home away from home when they arrive at Port Newark. In addition to providing spiritual guidance, the two chaplains help seamen connect to family and friends with cell phones and phone cards. They facilitate precious shore leave opportunities and even drive them to local malls if called upon to shop.
“For us, this work goes beyond the walls of the church,” Lindstrom said. “It’s taking pastoral care on the road, up the gangways and on board ship to a whole new world waiting to be explored. It’s where ‘the rubber meets the road,’ as my father used to say.”
SCI hired both chaplains as full-time employees: Kollin has been at SCI for 15 years, while Lindstrom has been a chaplain for 10 years. They both reside in New Jersey and are Episcopalian, though SCI is ecumenical and not under the auspices of any one diocese.
The close working relationship between the Port of New York and New Jersey (PONYNJ) and SCI goes back to 1834. Yet most people know next to nothing about the lives of the seafarers.
Life as a mariner is tough. They come from around the world – places like the Philippines, Greece, Russia, Ukraine, India and the U.S. They spend months aboard vessels away from their homes, families and friends. The pay is relatively high, which allows them to support their families and handle the high costs of college educations for their children.
Jovic Delgado, a seaman from the Philippines, has been away from home sometimes for as a long as six months. While taking a quiet moment in the SCI chapel recently, he explained that for him, the toughest part of being a mariner is leaving the family behind. “My two girls become very sad and there’s a lot of crying when I leave.”
Kollin, who also is from the Philippines, said he often runs into compatriots he knows or that know him. “Sixty percent of the seafarers I see at PONYNJ are Filipino,” he said.
Aboard a tanker once, Kollin discovered to his surprise that the man with whom he was chatting was a relative. “We exchanged contact information and I told him to contact me at any time.”
Seafarers confront real-life dangers unique to their profession of the sort Tom Hanks encountered in the movie Captain Phillips, when the U.S. containership Maersk Alabama was overtaken by a band of Somali pirates near the Horn of Africa and the crew was taken hostage at gunpoint. Delgado said that ship crews are trained on how to handle pirates, and recalled an anxious incident when a Nigerian boat pilot attempted unsuccessfully to board his vessel.
“I’ll never forget the time I was asked to visit an oil tanker,” said Lindstrom. “The ship had come through extremely rough seas in the North Atlantic, and the crew was exhausted.” While they all had proper U.S. visas, the terminal would not allow anyone to leave ship due to security reasons, she recalled.
“After a 45-minute wait to get on the ship, I was met with many sullen faces. They were upset because they couldn’t get off ship. They needed things like toothpaste and toothbrushes, and white cotton crew neck Hanes tee-shirts. One person needed maintenance medication for his diabetes,” she said. “I asked if I could offer grace. As we assembled around the tables, I asked God to bless the crew, and I gave thanks for their safe arrival despite the terrible winds and the walls of water.”
Lindstrom is a second-generation chaplain to the mariners. She credits her father, The Rev. George Dawson, a former chaplain at SCI, with her choice of profession. Before her career in pastoral care, she worked for 30 years teaching learning-disabled boys.
“The highlight of our school year was the class trip to Port Newark. My father had befriended a few captains, who allowed my small classes to board ship, tour the engine room and bridge, and we ended the day with ice cream and cookies in the Officer’s Mess,” she said
Later as a student at General Theological Seminary in Manhattan, she completed her final semester at SCI, visiting ships and driving seafarers to the local mall. That’s when the sense that she might have a true calling at Port Newark began.
“It has been a joy and privilege to minister to our seafarers over the past 11 years,” said Lindstrom.
Watch the video below as Rev. Kollin describes what life was like for the mariners during Superstorm Sandy.