by the Rev. David M. Rider, President & Executive Director
“It is a privilege for chaplains to be with these crew members and link arms with them following such a tremendous loss—a dreadful privilege, but still a privilege. To be with a crew on their worst day ever is scary. If we can help make it more bearable somehow that’s a ‘worthwhile day’ for a chaplain. Being CISM trained allows us to do that.”
—Chaplain Kempton D. Baldridge
Ministry on the Rivers and Gulf, Ohio River Region
About once a month, our port or river chaplains respond to crisis situations involving serious injury, illness or fatality aboard vessels entrusted to their care. To keep our pastoral crisis intervention skills sharp, I joined five SCI river chaplains and chaplain associates in a three-day training course in Atlanta, GA sponsored by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. We co-trained with airline crew support staff, law enforcement and fire department chaplains to gain a breadth and understanding of best practices regarding emergency responses.
Though working in different settings, our course colleagues used role-play and examined real cases employing a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) debriefing model—a standard in intervention after crews manage a serious injury, suicide or other fatal accident. We analyzed our roles and appraised the ways our chaplains can protect those in our care following an incident, helping maritime employees return to work safely when appropriate.
SCI chaplains work within a network of emergency service personnel to assist those involved in maritime workplace emergencies. In our river context, maritime transportation companies invite chaplains onto a boat after a serious incident, while Coast Guard, coroners or medical examiners complete their work. After civil authorities depart, chaplains support the surviving crew with individual conversation and communal prayer. Chaplains often lead a CISM debriefing that entails a confidential team conversation with crewmates in a “safe space.” This process aims to help mariners begin a process that equips them to face the days ahead.
After the immediate stress aboard the vessel abates, chaplains work with company officials to support any crew change decisions, while remaining available to the impacted family as needed. On more than one occasion, families of mariners have asked our chaplains to lead funeral services or preach. Sudden death causes chaos, so SCI chaplains train to bring support and a healing presence to the crisis. After surviving crews re-board the vessel—usually after a period of home leave—our chaplains often visit the boat again for follow-up conversation.
Since SCI’s founding over 180 years ago, our chaplains have supported mariners on both routine and tragic days, but we never do so in isolation. We represent the larger faith community’s concern at a painful moment in time, and we work mutually with public authorities after the first stages of an incident. This recent training bolsters our commitment to ensure we work collaboratively and taps into the best practices so we can respond, care for and assist mariners and their families in times of need.