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Port Chaplains Work Doubletime to Bring Christmas to Seafarers

Port chaplain staff aboard a vessel with two crewmembers
Courtesy Seafarers House / NAMMA

Published Dec 21, 2022 3:21 PM by Susan Huppert

As Christmas draws near, packages are moving across the country on tight schedules. At Port Everglades, Florida, the crunch is always on.

“Years ago, it would take days to unload a cargo ship, now it takes hours,” said Port Chaplain the Rev. Canon Sanford Sears, SSC who has been serving seafarers for the past six years.

The increasing pace of global economics may benefit industry, but for international seafarers, the vital factor in the equation, working under pressure to ensure that cargoes move safely and efficiently, that benefit is unseen.

“Cargo ship seafarers are truly forgotten,” said Sears. “People think that everything comes from Amazon.”

Seafarers’ House is a multi-faith organization that serves seafarers when their ships dock at this Florida port. The ministry strives to let seafarers know they are not forgotten, particularly at Christmas. Coordinated staff and volunteers are hoping to board every ship that comes to the port with a Christmas gift for each member of the multicultural crews.

Volunteers have developed a team of workers including women’s groups; students seeking community service hours, the local Power Squadron, and partners from St. Jerome Catholic Church.

“We are very lucky. They are the core of the program and they do a bang-up job,” said the chaplain. 

Sears, an ordained priest in the Anglican Church, retired from the U.S. Coast Guard and was later appointed to serve as chaplain to seafarers. He is well acquainted with the physical and emotional dangers seafarers face.  Well received within the port, he is affectionately known as “Sandy.”

COVID-19 did not stop the Christmas giving. The Christmas gift program ran throughout the recent pandemic although gifts were delivered at the base of the gangway rather than boarding. Sears and his Spanish-speaking wife, Erika, provide pastoral support also.

“I couldn’t do it without her,” he said. “We talk and counsel them in regard to being away from home. My ministry has gone further to counseling port workers too. I bless their work areas and give prayers.”

He offers a multi-faith worship program each month on the Carnival Cruise line vessel per the company’s request.

About 300 ships dock annually at Port Everglades, where the Seafarers’ House hosts nearly 150,000 visits by cruise and cargos ship crewmembers. The mission offers refuge, resources, renewal and respect to these global workers year-round.

Thanks to the dedication and donations from major shipping companies, American Maritime Officers and many others, seafarers at Port Everglades are receiving Christmas boxes brimming with items they need and enjoy this Christmas season.

Susan Huppert is a writer for The MARE Report, the news magazine for the North American Maritime Ministry Association. With members in more than 50 ports around North America, NAMMA’s mission is to support those in maritime ministry with professional development, fellowship, and advocacy. 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.