In 2009, the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) celebrates 175 years of service to the maritime community, assisting the world’s over 1 million mariners with innovative programs and services. From early days as a small, grassroots mission of the Episcopal Church, SCI has grown to be the largest and most comprehensive mariner’s agency in North America. To celebrate the significant heritage, the Institute hosts several special events in 2009, giving insight into the unique work of SCI.
“The organization remains committed to its mission and continued work on behalf of mariners,” says John McGrath, Senior Development Officer at SCI. McGrath says that the events planned for the Anniversary celebrate a record of achievement and also showcase the importance of maritime commerce to the world. “As the industry grows and changes, so will the need for SCI’s work and presence,” says McGrath.
Mariners spend long periods of time onboard vessels, away from family and native communities. SCI’s ministry to the mariner in ports of America and across the world is specially designed to meet the needs of this community. “The actual work of the mariner is stressful and dangerous,” says the Rev. David M. Rider, President and Executive Director of SCI, “and it is compounded by unpredictable weather conditions and long journeys across sometimes pirate-infested waters.”
Throughout its history, SCI has sought to alleviate the threats and strain on the mariner. “Our programs of chaplaincy—to minister to the mariner’s soul; education—to minister to their professional advancement; and advocacy—to minister to their dignity as human beings, are focused on strengthening the maritime workforce that oftentimes goes unrecognized,” says Rider.
In addition to the events normally hosted during the calendar year, SCI adds a number of special activities for the Anniversary.
SCI’s International Seafarers’ Center in Port Newark, undergoing a $10 million renovation, will be rededicated in the Anniversary year. The facility, used to welcome mariners from around the world, was originally built in the 1960s. The Center serves as a base of operations for SCI’s service to mariners and offers the international seafarer a welcoming place away from home.
As part of the Anniversary celebration, SCI recognizes President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s work and relationship with the Institute from 1908 to 1945. This program, scheduled for April 21, 2009, is cosponsored by the South Street Seaport Museum and presented in partnership with the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY.
Other programs and awards in 2009 will celebrate the impact of SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights, the Institute’s legal advocacy arm, and its Center for Maritime Education, which provides opportunities for professional training. McGrath says, “The activities in April and May will recognize the Center for Seafarers’ Rights as a leader in advocacy for merchant mariners, improving legal standards and working to correct individual injustices for seafarers.”
“SCI relies on the support of others to carry out our mission,” says McGrath, “and we hope to use the Anniversary to thank those who have supported us. Individual volunteers across America along with churches and maritime companies make sure that there is a network of support for the mariner no matter where he or she travels. ” McGrath says also that SCI looks to the future and the number of supporters needed to sustain and expand its ministry.
“Through our celebration, we hope to increase awareness of the work of the mariner and the organization that supports them during their labor,” says McGrath. “It is a record of achievement that bodes well for what we hope to be an equally brilliant future.”