The tradition of The Danish Seamen’s Churches goes back more than 150 years to a time when international shipping was quite different than what it is today. As shipping has changed, the role of the Danish Seamen’s church has changed with it. Today the pastor at The Danish Seamen’s Church in Hong Kong, Margith Pedersen, serves as a pastor to the local Danish congregation, handles the practical task in administrating the church and she is also providing social service to Danish ships that visit the port.
Because of that, the role of the Danish Seamen’s Church has changed somewhat from its initial role as a meeting place for Danish seafarers as they reached port.
“When the seafarers’ ships were in port they would go to the church and make a phone call home, drink coffee and read the newspaper or talk with the other Danish people there,” Margith explains.
The evolution of international shipping has meant that the crews of the ships now normally don’t have time to leave the vessel before they are off to the next port. Instead of having the church being a gathering point for seamen, the church today focuses on visiting the ships with different goods like candy or newspapers from land that the crew could wish for.
“We do kind of a welfare service providing the ships with their wishes. Both me and the church assistant, Thorbjørn, go on these visits to the Danish-flagged ships that enter the port of Hong Kong,” Margith says.
Watch the Chaplain Assistant at The Danish Seamen’s Church of Hong Kong, Thorbjørn Pedersen, after he visited Maersk Essex in the port of Hong Kong.
As the seamen communities started disappearing from the churches, others started appearing. Larger Danish communities of permanent residents have formed in some of the major port cities. These people now use the Danish Seamen’s Church for the classic Christian ceremonies and personal talks with the pastor.
“The big port cities become magnets for big Danish companies and then people moved out here and so a Danish colony emerged. They need a Danish church for their children to be baptized or have their confirmation in. So the development has made the church for both the seamen and the Danes who live on land in the city,” Margith says.
In this way the tasks of today’s Seamen’s church resembles the ones of the Church of Denmark more than previously.
Margith Pedersen is right now serving as a substitute pastor while the Seamen’s Church in Hong Kong is looking to find a new permanent pastor for the position and any given applicant will be applying for a versatile job. Besides the pastoral tasks and providing social services, the pastor also takes part in the practical work of setting up the different events at the church.
“We put on lectures and a lot of family events around Christmas time, like our Christmas Bazar. I am involved in planning all of this,” Margith explains.
The Bazar is especially important since it helps the church bring in the money it needs for surviving.
“The Seamen’s Churches get at pastor salary paid by Denmark. But all the money for rent, the daily operation, and a salary to an organist we have to collect ourselves,” Margith says.