by Jason Zuidema, ICMA
This beautiful, short book recounts the ministry of a Stella Maris chaplain in Immingham, UK. Fr. Colum Kelly, a priest in the Diocese of Leeds, tells his stories of 16 years as port chaplain. Editor Josie Edwards makes the text engaging and illustrations are added by current Immingham chaplain, Bryony Watson.
Journalist Rose George, author of Ninety Percent of Everything, pens a preface to the book. She remarks, “In my book I called Colum’s work ‘ the ministry of small gestures,’ but just because the gestures are small doesn’t mean that the impact of Column’s work has not been huge. I know that around the world there are thousands of seafarers who will remember this prosaic northern English port, not for the scenery of coal heaps and industrial zones, but for the Irish priest who climbed up their gangway, who waited for an invitation into their living quarters, who, as soon as he could, would ask his most important question: ‘How can I help you?'”
Fr. Kelly covers the typical bases in a book about seafaring ministry. He describes the port environment, crew makeup, the daily work of a chaplain and some of the extraordinary challenges that he has faced. Among these were the rebuilding of the Immingham seafarers’ centre following a major flood in December 2013. The book is a fun read: there are a number of laugh-out-loud passages in the book, stories of ministry-in-action, and portraits of heart-breaking moments for seafarers.
The book should be a good read for someone wishing to know more about Stella Maris or seafaring ministry, but I recommend it especially for other chaplains. There are numerous great case studies and learning moments throughout the book. Fr. Kelly has important insight into chaplaincy as a ministry of presence, about how to listen in moments of crisis, and how to show support when seafarers need it most. Fr. Kelly was especially good at making himself useful to the Harbour Master, being available at any time when seafarers were in distress. However, he also expresses his limitations, in his case with language abilities. He shares the example of not knowing Chinese, but yet trying to be pastoral to a crew of Chinese seafarers who were mourning the death of one of their crew members.
Though a first manuscript of the book was completed in 2019, it didn’t go to press until later in 2020, thus giving Fr. Kelly the opportunity to include a few thoughts in a chapter on the COVID-19 pandemic. He is honest about the struggles of social isolation, but also knows this will help us put our lives and work in perspective.
Fr. Kelly’s book is an easy read – 100 pages, short chapters. I would highly recommend this book for any chaplain, ship visitor, staff member or volunteer at any other ICMA ministry. You will be blessed by his stories, be entertained, and gain valuable perspective on the wonderful ministry to seafarers.