Mission to Seafarers

By Mary Klein, diocesan archivist

Baltimore’s International Seafarer’s Center is affiliated with The Mission to Seamen, an English organization. When his son asked the Rev. John Ashley in 1835 how people on ships went to church, the Anglican priest began the Bristol Channel Mission, which served the needs of the seafarers on four hundred sailing ships in the Bristol Channel. By 1856, various similar ministries organized under the name The Mission to Seamen Afloat, at Home and Abroad, and in 1856 shortened the title to The Mission to Seamen, adopting the Flying Angel logo still in use today.

In Baltimore, the April 5, 1874, minutes of the meeting of the Convocation of Baltimore noted that the Rev. George A. Leakin, the chaplain for Public Institutions and Seamen, moved “that a committee be appointed to report what can be done to promote the spiritual interests of seafaring men in this city.” Always an advocate for the poor and neglected, Leakin ministered to  the Home for Incurables, Johns Hopkins Hospital, The Aged Women’s Home, The city jail, the Orphan Asylum, the House of Refuge, the Industrial Colored Home, Fort McHenry, the Penitentiary, the Maternity Sanitarium, a hospital ship, the Marine Hospital and the Nursery and Child’s Hospital. He did not give up advocating for ministry to the seafarers, and in 1881 urged the diocesan Missions Committee to “be instructed to take action for commencing services among the seamen of the Port of Baltimore”, and to report its progress. During the April 19, 1882, meeting of the Convocation of Baltimore, Mr. Leakin read “excerpts from the journal of the Rev. D.M. McCaffrey who visits the ships in our harbor and gave interesting particulars of his own work among the same people.” The Rev. Dominic McCaffrey worked at Church of the Ascension in Baltimore, the assistant to the Rev. Campbell Fair, and ministered to seamen in the port.

The Rev. Campbell Fair, rector of Church of the Ascension from 1875-1886, was to reiterate his interest in the needs of seamen at the 1889 General Convention. Having been called to become rector of St. Mark’s Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1886, he was a deputy to General Convention from Western Michigan and introduced a resolution: “many of our population are engaged on oceans, bays, rivers, canals, and lakes, contributing to the prosperity and comfort of our citizens, while no provision has been made for their spiritual welfare.” Noting that “recent missions on British waters have been remarkably successful”, he wanted a committee of three bishops, three priests and three laymen to form a committee and report to the next General Convention “what may best be done to aid any present organizations, or to originate missions on waters of the United States”. George Leakin’s insistence on caring for seafarers had echoed all the way to the national church.

In his 1890 report to the bishop, George Leakin said, “application was made to procure a Hospital Ship for the care of sick and wounded dredgers. In answer to this request, the Secretary of the Treasury sent the ‘Stevens’ (with every medical appliance) which about February 1st was anchored at the mouth of the Patuxent River amidst a fleet of bay vessels. I held services on board assisted by the choir from Solomon’s Island. One hundred twelve patients treated in the first month. Arrangements are organizing for procuring a library, organ and other offerings to brighten the hard lives of these “toilers of the Bay.” This ministry continues today with the Baltimore International Seafarers’ Center and is supported through gifts to the Bishops’ Annual Ministries Appeal.