Together in Spirit: NAMMA members praying online

by Kevin Walker, NAMMA

Prayer together is central to what NAMMA is.  Ministry to seafarers, like every work of love, begins and ends with the love of God; likewise, our ecumenical collaboration begins and ends with our shared supplication, in spite of our differences, to God’s love for seafarers.  Therefore, whenever NAMMA members are gathered, we make a point of not only talking together for the sharing of ideas and resources, but also worshiping together for the sharing of our devotion.  That we were not able to gather and worship together, then, has been one of the more poignant losses for NAMMA as an association.  But it is so encouraging to see many NAMMA members sharing meditations and praying for seafarers together through ‘Maritime Prayer’, our monthly online worship service.

“Sometimes we forget that an important part of our mission is supporting each other, because only when we are strong can we give the seafarers what they need,” says NAMMA President, Deacon Paul Rosenblum. “Maritime Prayer is a wonderful resource in that regard. It gives us a way to pray together, but more than that, it lets us know that we care about each other. We all need that kind of strengthening in these difficult times.”

How Maritime Prayer Started

As early as Summer 2019, Jason Zuidema had been wondering with Kevin Walker about how NAMMA’s values of faith and fellowship could be reflected in what it did between conferences.  Worship services via video chat seemed like the way to do it, but there were obstacles, too: NAMMA already had plenty of projects on the go, and preparing a service was a task in itself, not to mention finding people to preach and read and making sure all traditions were included.  So these services were thought of more as a longer-term goal, for some time in the distant future.

When COVID-19 hit in full force, however, much of everyone’s thinking needed to be reordered: the annual conference was cancelled, and many of us were cut off not only from the rest of NAMMA, but even from our own local co-workers and places of ministry.  While we all continued to look for ways to be present for seafarers in isolation, being present to each other took on a new importance.  So plans were formed for bi-weekly services, particularly as a support each other through the lockdown.  

Rev. Gary Roosma, as chair of the NAMMA Ecumenical Committee, willingly took the lead.  A former missionary and teacher of theology in Indonesia, now a Christian Reformed chaplain in Vancouver, Gary has been coordinating with NAMMA members of all sorts and drawing up interesting and challenging liturgies.  

Gary says of his experiences with Maritime Prayer: “Leading these services over the past months has been a real pleasure and joy.  I’ve been especially blessed by those praying alongside me from other confessions, right across the ecumenical spectrum.  Most importantly, we’ve shared experience, encouragement, and God’s Word, and we’ve held each other and our ministries up in prayer. I’m glad we are carrying on in this spirit of mutual care and comfort. To God be the Glory!”

Attendance at the beginning of the pandemic was usually about 20 people for both weekly sessions, with lots of volunteers to preach and read – the spirit of supporting each other in hard times was felt also in the homilies given, which often took on a Lenten theme.

“The Maritime Prayer has been such an anchor for me during these turbulent seas of the pandemic,” says former president Rev. Marsh L. Drege.  “Each time we gather I receive encouragement, hope, and the assurance that as maritime ministry personnel we are together in God’s faithful hands.” 

NAMMA Vice-president, Chaplain Michelle DePooter, too, commented on the power of regular prayer together to give comfort in the pandemic: “It’s been wonderful taking space regularly, even twice a week, to relax the mind and concentrate on coming together as a community to pray for each other and for seafarers. Being able to participate as a preacher and hear others from diverse backgrounds each week was a good reminder that we are a community.  This was especially important at the beginning of the pandemic, when everything else was changing rapidly and we had to adjust to different realities on an almost daily basis.”

The Present and Future of Maritime Prayer

Services are held on the first or second Wednesday of each month, first through GoToWebinar and then uploaded to NAMMA’s Youtube channel.  One volunteer composes and delivers the homily and chooses a set of scripture readings and a hymn to go with it; another composes and delivers an intercessory prayer and reads the scriptures and hymn.  Both are in coordination with Gary Roosma, who composes the liturgy and reads the opening and closing prayers, and Kevin Walker, who runs the slides and the webinar itself.  The services run for about 15 minutes and typically are attended live by more than a dozen NAMMA members.

We look forward to continuing with Maritime Prayer, even as new stages of this crisis along with many other challenges has made us busier than ever.  We look forward to trying new things in Maritime Prayer as well: services that are more “flavoured” by individual traditions, services that showcase recent Houston School graduates and other new faces in maritime ministry…maybe even a hymn that is actually sung!  Most important to us, however, is that we not cease to listen to each other, build friendships in our shared calling, and uphold each other and seafarers in prayer. 

“I’m glad that Maritime Prayer is one of NAMMA’s regular programs going forward,” concludes Michelle DePooter.  “So many of us feel isolated in our ministries where we are, even with local church colleagues who don’t understand our work. We do each other such good when we connect in shared worship, and I’m glad we’re continuing.”

If you would like to participate in Maritime Prayer, please register here: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2458501809987157773