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Seafarer's Ministry

"Ship Ahoy!"

Click here to visit the Seafarers Ministry website

American Baptists do foreign mission work right here in the San Francisco Bay Area through the Seafarers Ministry of the Golden Gate. Few church members know this, and we need make this mission program known.

In 1946, Rev. Thorbjorn Olsen left the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Oslo, Norway, to establish with his wife, Tuppi, a “home away from home” for seafarers, particularly those from Scandinavia. The mission was founded in San Francisco with help from the Bay Cities Baptist Union. Olsen himself had been a seafarer; he knew the loneliness and problems of those who spent most of their time on ships, being home only briefly during a year. The mission was established in the middle of San Francisco, an area heavily populated by Swedes.

During most of the first fifty years, the Scandinavian mission societies provided the chaplain and a couple of assistants. The costs of fixing and maintaining the mission building were mostly supported by local American Baptist churches.

Several years ago, significant changes happened. First, with the fall of the iron curtain, the Scandinavian societies had the opportunity to minister in Eastern Europe and moved most of their funding away from the Scandinavian Seamen’s Mission. The nature of shipping has changed enormously. Whereas, ships used to be in port for two weeks or so, now ships, which are unloaded and loaded by massive container cranes, stay in port for mere hours. So no longer do seafarers have time to go to a “home away from home”. Also, few seafarers today are scandinavian; most come from third world countries. Thus the mission was sold with the money put into investments to help with the transition from Scandinavian funding to total funding by local churches and individuals. The ministry is now centered in Oakland where the vast majority of ships dock. Recognizing to whom we were now ministering, the name was changed to “Seafarers Ministry of the Golden Gate”. The last chaplain provided by the Scandinavian societies left about five years ago. We now hire and pay for the chaplain to run the program and minister to the seafarers from a great many different countries. We have a group of dedicated volunteers, some of whom are fluent in the languages of the seafarers, to help. The ministry today is almost entirely aboard ships during their brief time in port. In the year 2000, 693 ships were visited. The seafarers on these ships came from sixty different nations. So we American Baptists minister to thousands of foreigners right here.

The seafarers to whom we minister are away from home for many months at a time. They may go over a month without setting foot on land. With the events of 9/11/2001, it is now difficult, if not impossible, to leave their ship while in the US. Their pay is very low, and many times the shipping companies refuse to pay them at all. Life is lonely and dangerous. (How many of you saw “the Perfect Storm”?). Chaplains provide spiritual comfort, counseling, and occasionally intervention where particularly onerous situations are uncovered.

Although we are now responsible for almost the entire costs of running this mission, only about 10% of American Baptist churches in Northern California support the ministry. As a result, our expenses now exceed our income. It was possible for us to sustain this loss because of our investment from the sale of the San Francisco mission building, but we must get funding from far more churches and individuals. Here is a worthy foreign mission project that you can see right here. We encourage churches to adopt ships that regularly call in Bay Area ports.

We are asking all churches to put the Seafarers Ministry in their church budgets. For those who cannot so do this year, we are asking that a special offering be taken.

The ministry publishes a newsletter, "Ship Ahoy!" To be added to the distribution list or to make a contribution, please contact the chaplain:

Rev. Dr. Jim Lindgren
Seafarers Ministry of the Golden Gate
534-22nd Street
Oakland, California  94612-1614


(This article is provided by the Seafarer's Mission website. It is just a brief outline of the history and mission of this cause.) Philip F. Meads, Jr., Treasurer