A ministry of ‘being present’ is how Bryony Watson, Apostleship of the Sea’s (AoS) new port chaplain in Immingham, describes her vocation.
At 23, Bryony is the youngest member of AoS’ port chaplaincy team. Before her appointment in February, she was a volunteer ship visitor for four years.
“I learnt about AoS after a talk given by Fr Colum Kelly (who leads the AoS’ port chaplaincy team in Immingham), and was shocked that I knew so little about the lives of seafarers; especially as I’d lived by the sea all my life,” says Bryony who was born and grew up in Grimsby.
“Before Fr Colum’s talk ships were just lights on the horizon” she adds.
She became involved with AoS soon after, assisting parish contacts with the collection of shoeboxes, woolly hats and warm clothing, before visiting her first ship in December 2012
“I remember feeling over awed with the size of the ship and nervous about the gangway which looked quite precarious. However, I also remember the welcome we received, and how pleased the crew were to see us,” says Bryony, who graduated with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art in 2015 and briefly toyed with the idea of teaching in a primary school.
Bryony remembers a ship visit that sticks in her mind till this day. It was a few years ago, during the Russian annexation of Crimea.
She and her fellow AoS port chaplain Steve Willows visited a very old vessel which was berthed in Immingham while the crew made repairs.
“We were met by the second officer, who was slumped in a chair at the watch station. His clothes were ripped and dirty and he looked haggard. He told us that he was the only crew member from Crimea, that he was doing the work of two people, and that he was desperately homesick.
“He couldn’t leave his station so we stood on the deck of the ship and listened while he talked about the beauty of the water surrounding the Crimean peninsula, the apricot trees, and his wife and young daughter; all of which he missed terribly. There was very little we could do, other than listen, and hope that talking brought him some comfort.
“That visit showed me that chaplaincy is ‘being present’, being there, whether that means standing on a cold deck in the rain for an hour, or chatting over coffee in a mess room.”
Bryony, who plays ice hockey and enjoys reading – “especially anything by John Steinbeck and Charles Dickens” – credits Fr Colum for showing her the ropes of port chaplaincy, and says it is a wonderful experience working with and learning from him.
Last year, AoS’ Immingham port chaplains visited 605 ships to provide spiritual and pastoral support including celebrating Mass on board and supplying faith materials.