In the previous post the Sheaf Royal had arrived in Rotterdam. We weren’t there long. It took 36 hours to discharge 38,100 tons of grain once we had a berth. When we were alongside the deck officers decided to work their cargo watches on a 24-on/24-off basis from 12:00-12:00. Fellow cadet George and I were also to work these watches. I drew the short straw and got the first 24-hour watch with the third mate. This meant that George had a full 24 hours off. He went to the Christmas party at the Seamen’s Mission (click for info about the Mission to Seafarers). I didn’t. George returned to the ship a little the worse for wear and insisted on telling me how he had seen Father Christmas at the Mission. In fact, he told me several times. I had been on duty for twelve hours at this point with another twelve hours to work. I wasn’t in the mood to hear about Father Christmas when I hadn’t been to the party. Fortunately, George sobered up before he was due to relieve me twelve hours later.
Coming off duty after 24 hours on duty I had a dilemma: get my head down or take a walk ashore? Wanting to visit the Botlek Duty-free Store won and off I went. A lift from a local on the back of a motorcycle was much appreciated. I returned to the ship on the bus and by 18:00 was tucked up in bed. By 18:30 I was back in working clothes and in number five hold with a broom, with all the other deck officers, including the captain. Our Chinese deck ratings had gone on strike demanding an increase in the bonus payment for hold sweeping. If I had believed in Father Christmas, the one thing I wanted for Christmas at that point was at least 12 hours in my bed.
I don’t know when I stopped believing in Father Christmas. A trip to the Christmas party at the Mission wouldn’t have changed anything. Sadly, the imaginary Father Christmas who means so much to small children and first trip cadets who have had a few beers is not able to change lives for ever. Only for a moment in time.
The other person we think about at Christmas is Jesus Christ, someone who can change lives for ever. Some may doubt that choosing to believe in other things or nothing at all. I do believe in Jesus and there is nothing on either side of eternity that will ever change my mind. I am guessing that the chaplains in the Mission in Rotterdam back in 1973 felt the same – that’s why they did what they did. It is also why chaplains today in various ministries do what they do. They do what they do because this is what Jesus did. He served humanity with compassion born out of a love for humanity that humanity will never be able to figure out. Not this side of eternity.
One thing I did forget to do in the previous blog was honour two chaplains known to me. One I have never met and one I have known since he was born. Fellow blogger Jon Swanson is a hospital chaplain in the USA. Hospital is not an easy place for a chaplain to work at the best of times, never mind in the middle of a pandemic. You can find Jon’s blog here – 300 Words a Day. It’s well worth a daily read. David Gwatkin is an agricultural chaplain in the Welsh Marches in the UK (click here for details). He lives not far from me. I know a little of his very challenging work from conversations we have had.
I think I’d rather be Father Christmas one day a year than a chaplain 365 days a year because I am guessing that an off-duty chaplain is never really off-duty. Not even when Father Christmas pops into his Mission, hospital, or farm. So, thank you Jon and thank you David, and thank you all you other chaplains for what you do and who you do it for. I think I can say with confidence that He appreciates it.