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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'We have to take the church to them'

When ships come into port, chaplains are there to greet the crews

They toil at a job once considered romantic, sailing the seven seas to and from exotic ports of call. But the romance—if it ever existed—is the stuff of fiction. Crews on the thousands of ships ferrying goods around the world live a hard, dangerous and lonely life, spending months away from family and friends.

When they do reach land, it’s often in cities that don’t welcome them and places where they can’t find respite from the rigors of shipboard labor.

Walter Wiklund, a pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Bayonne, N.J., also serves thousands of seafarers whose huge ships dock at the ports of Newark and Elizabeth, N.J. As the ships arrive, Wiklund is there with a van, phone cards, his friendship and the word of God.

It can be a long day of helping crews to connect with their families at home, visit New York City, buy medicines or gifts for their children and feel safe in a strange land. When Wiklund’s van returns to the dock, he holds a prayer service with the crew. “We used to do it on board the ship,” he said, when the evenings were quiet. But today the unloading never stops, as the ships must put out to sea again as quickly as possible.

Lutherans who listen

Andrew Krey brings a particular expertise to his ministry. Today the ELCA pastor serves as executive secretary of the Lutheran Association for Maritime Ministry, a ministry of the ELCA and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod that celebrates its 25th year Oct. 1. In the past, Krey worked as a cook on an oil tanker and spent 20 years in the Navy Reserve assigned to submarines. He was a volunteer with a ministry to seafarers during his shore leave when a chaplain met him in a union hall in 1974 and suggested he consider ordained ministry.


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