Three Christian maritime societies committed themselves to working together yesterday. The Christian Ecumenical Covenant for Maritime Ministry in the UK and Eire was signed in a ceremony at St Columba's Church of Scotland in London, by the Apostleship of the Sea (Roman Catholic), the British & International Sailors' Society - BISS (interdenominational), and the Mission to Seafarers (Anglican). Commodore Chris York, National Director of the Apostleship of the Sea, said: "The signing of this Covenant is a radical, groundbreaking step, and the dawn of a new, collaborative era in our care for seafarers. For the first time, the Christian maritime societies are coming together in an unbreakable partnership to respond more effectively to the needs of seafarers. We are announcing to the entire maritime industry that we are united in Christ, and that the days of division and suspicion are well and truly over. "Ninety-five percent of all the goods we use and consume every day are brought to us by ship, but the conditions of seafarers are often hidden from us. Away from homes and family for a year at a time, they often suffer loneliness, depression, dangerous working conditions, low wages and exploitation. However, as Partners in Mission, we are saying to them loud and clear that we are alongside them in their work. Seafarers themselves are the most valuable commodity in the maritime industry and, by recognising and promoting their human dignity, we work towards the wellbeing of the industry as a whole." The Covenant deals with the day-to-day ministry of the three maritime welfare societies in ports up and down the British Isles, where port chaplains and volunteers from each of the three Christian societies provide pastoral and practical support for seafarers visiting our shores. Ecumenical collaboration is already a reality in most ports, but the newly signed covenant commits the societies to rededicate themselves to foster closer communication, avoid duplication, respect the denominational traditions of seafarers and encourage professional collaboration. The document recognises that the three societies "have much to offer and receive from one another in the rich diversity of our traditions" and explores the implications of their common calling to care for seafarers regardless of nationality or creed. It also stipulates that effective ecumenical collaboration is conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect for each others' traditions. Accordingly, it commits ecumenical chaplaincy teams to "share in the pastoral care of seafarers whilst allowing for individual seafarers to receive ministry of his or her choice" and to "acknowledge the particular service each chaplain brings to seafarers of their own denomination". Commodore Chris York added: "Together, in the name of Christ, we provide vital assistance to seafarers who may be many miles from home, and I am delighted that this aspect of the Church's outreach is now a shining model of ecumenism working effectively in practice."
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