A group of clergy and lay gathered in the chapel of the Flying Angel Club, the Edwardian house that serves as the building for the Mission to Seafarers at the Port of Vancouver the evening of September 20, 2016. They had gathered to participate in a Celebration of New Ministry, the induction by Bishop Melissa Skelton of the Reverend Peter Smyth as Senior Port Chaplain to the Mission to Seafarers.
The chapel is beautifully appointed with Red Cedar panels, millwork and furniture. Much of the wood decorated with carvings depicting events from the life of Jesus and other representative symbols of the Christian faith with a focus on those who make their living on ships at sea.
For those of you not familiar with the Mission to Seafarers (formerly Mission to Seamen), Anglican Archivist Melanie Delva was kind enough to share the following brief history with diocesan communications:
“The idea of ministering to sailors in this particular way was the vision of Fr. John Ashley on the banks of the Bristol Channel in 1835. One hundred and eighty-one years later, the Mission to Seafarers ministers to merchant seafarers in over 200 ports around the world.
Our own Mission in the Diocese of New Westminster began as the “Seamen’s Institute” with Fr. Clinton of St. James’ in 1897. It was established as a diocesan ministry in 1903. Currently we have missions at the Port of Vancouver and Robert’s Bank, but we also had a “mobile mission” in North Vancouver.
The “homes” of the Mission have also looked different over time. The current Flying Angel Club was first the B.C. Mills Timber and Trading Company Office and built in 1905. It was built on the site of a sawmill that began production in 1867 and then named the Hastings Saw Mill Co. in 1870 after Rear Admiral Honorable Hastings, Commander of the Royal Navy base in Esquimalt. Although we have no known images of the original Mission, this current Flying Angel Club on Waterfront Road is a beautiful bastion of comfort in the busy Port of Vancouver.”
It was in the aforementioned chapel of this “beautiful bastion of comfort” that Reverend Smyth was installed. The liturgy was a little different than the usual Celebration of a New Ministry as the induction did not take place within the context of the Eucharist. However, all the usual elements were present: the Bishop’s announcement of the choice of Peter as Senior Chaplain, the readings from scripture; a homily; the description by the Executive Archdeacon of the process by which the new priest had been chosen; the administration of the Oaths and Subscriptions by the Executive Archdeacon; the reading of the Oath by the new priest, the signing of the Oath by the new priest witnessed by the Executive Archdeacon; the examination of the new priest by the bishop in the presence of the congregation (primarily Mission to Seafarers' staff); the presentation of the Symbols of Ministry of the Whole People of God, in this case by the staff of Mission and by members of Peter’s family including his spouse Elizabeth and their sons, Aeden 10 and Isaac 9. The principal component of worship concluded with an intercession offered by a representative of the Roman Catholic chaplaincy component of the Mission.
The preacher for the liturgy was the Venerable Elizabeth Northcott, Archdeacon of Westminster and rector of All Saints', Ladner. The Mission to Seafarers is located in the Archdeaconry of Burrard and in the Deanery of Kingsway. The archdeacon and regional dean were unable to attend the service so Archdeacon Northcott conveyed the traditional welcome to the new priest to the archdeaconry and deanery. As she pointed out, her role in the liturgy and welcome made perfect sense because the other Lower Mainland location of the Mission to Seafarers at the Delta Port is in her archdeaconry, and the Reverend Smyth would be welcome in Delta, Tsawwassen and Ladner anytime.
Archdeacon Northcott took the Gospel reading, Matthew 9: 9-13 for her text. She began by saying how fitting it was that the installation of the Senior Port Chaplain was taking place on the Feast of St. Matthew. She shared with the congregation her experience of being in Rome and viewing Caravaggio’s masterpiece, The Calling of St. Matthew in its location in the Contarelli Chapel in the church of the French congregation, San Luigi de Francesi. The gospel story read that evening is the subject matter of the painting. Of the five individuals seated at the table of the counting house, two are not paying any attention, two are kind of looking past Jesus and St. Peter and the figure assumed to be St. Matthew is staring at the two visitors with eyes wide and the index finger of his left hand pointing toward his chest as if to say “who? me?”. In the painting there is a window but there is no light shining through the window, the light comes from a different place behind where the figures of Jesus and Peter are positioned.
For Archdeacon Northcott, Matthew is seeing what the others do not see, “the light of Christ”. And this vision moves him to leave the comfort of his wealth and privilege to follow Jesus Christ eventually to the Cross. Matthew’s story is one of “courage and conviction” of the commitment to spread the Good News of Christ. And “nobody in ministry gets to do this in a more remarkable way than the Chaplain to Seafarers.” For Reverend Smyth will hear stories of loneliness, danger and loss. This chaplaincy to those who make their livelihood in circumstances where they are many times in peril and far from their loved ones will “challenge you every day of your life in this ministry.” In this ministry the Reverend Peter Smyth like St. Matthew will be challenged “to see the face of Christ in all we meet and the light of Christ in every place, even into deep dark places.”
At the outset of the Covenant in Ministry, Executive Archdeacon, the Venerable Douglas Fenton shared with the congregation the desire that Gordon Houston the former mission board chair had communicated that this posting be sent all over the Anglican Communion, and a wide search undertaken for the next Senior Port Chaplain. There were applications, CV’s and letters of inquiry from many parts of world for this ministry position with the result being the choice of the Reverend Peter Smyth. After sharing this information, the Executive Archdeacon added (with a glint of irony in his voice) that Mr. Houston had resigned as board chair soon after the selection of Reverend Smyth. This was greeted by many smiles and a few chuckles from the congregation. However, this was not the first time that Mr. Houston had resigned as chair and he and his spouse Kathleen remain staunch supporters of the Mission and members of The Flying Angel Club.
Following the worship Peter and Bishop Skelton posed for photos in the chapel’s chancel area and eventually everyone present moved to the main space of the Flying Angel Club building for a reception and some refreshments.
The Reverend Peter Smyth was born and raised in Northern Ireland and grew up in the Belfast area. He was ordained in the Church of Ireland and spent his first 10 years in ordained ministry there but has been a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada for 15 years. Please keep Peter and his family in your prayers as he embarks on this important ministry in our diocese. Peter intends that the Mission to be a far more visible presence in our diocesan family than it has been in the recent past so there will be more information forthcoming through diocesan communications about the Mission in the near future.