Every year in local communities along the shores of Lake Superior, and other small lakes and rivers in Wisconsin, fishing boats, ships, sailboats and all manner of watercraft are invited to the Blessing of the Fleet ceremony.
In Bayfield, the tradition started in the late 1950s as a way to honor the fishing families who formed the backbone of the area's economy, it is now an event that is open to all boaters. The Blessing is for everyone who uses the water. Commercial fishing boats, tugs, powerboats, sailboats, excursion crafts, kayaks, and rowboats will parade through Bayfield's City Harbor. As they pass by the tip of the pier, clergy from the Apostle Islands community grant each vessel a blessing for safe passage and a prosperous season on Lake Superior.
The ministry is an ecumenical effort with roots in a 1960s grain millers’ strike. When grain stopped flowing out of the harbor, hundreds of mariners were anchored, along with their cargo ships, in an unfamiliar port. With the support of his congregation, a German-born, multilingual Lutheran minister from Duluth began visiting ships, organizing a free shuttle service for seafarers, bringing them books and magazines and more. The strike ended, but the ministry did not; in 1969, the permanent Twin Ports Ministry to Seafarers was established.
The organization is headquartered in a former rectory in Duluth, where sailors can play ping pong, pray in the chapel, have a snack or watch television. Twin Ports Ministry still provides sailors with shuttle rides to churches, shopping centers, medical clinics and other community services, as well as wireless internet access and cell phones while ships are in port, relaxation time at The Seafarers Center, and other amenities.
Many workers on the “salties,” the saltwater ships traveling from the Atlantic via the St. Lawrence Seaway, are from the Far East. Although the captains are wealthy, the crew workers are usually poor, so ministry volunteers offer them donations of clothing, personal care items and, around the holidays, Christmas gifts.
Ministry volunteers visit every saltie that comes in and, when they can, the larger freshwater “lakers” that travel the Great Lakes. The number of ocean-going vessels they see over the course of one season depends on the grain harvest in Europe and Russia.
View full article written by Anita Draper - Catholic Herald Staff