I grew up in an English coastal village on the North Sea. We lived just a few blocks from the beach, where I walked our dog. My grandfather’s family were commercial fishermen, and my grandparents later operated a fish and chip shop. When I was a kid, North Sea oil was booming; my world was filled with roughnecks, roustabouts, divers, and wireliners.
The North Sea provides food, jobs, recreation, and stunning coasts. The coldest sea in the world, the North Sea is also one of the most dangerous. Weather conditions can be extreme; I have numerous memories of lashing gales and fog so thick it was hard to find my way home. I have also witnessed the tragic loss of loved ones to the brutal sea. Maybe that is why I was drawn to the shipping theme of our recent fundraiser, we are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.
In this environment, our lifeboat was a key character in community life. We were immensely proud of our lifeboat, Britain’s first and still one of only a few independent lifeboat services in the country. Many of my acquaintances volunteered with the service in some form. The annual fundraising carnival was a whole village affair and a highlight of my childhood summers.
I think it would be hard to live in our village, Caister-on-Sea, and not know about the 1901 lifeboat disaster of the “Great Storm.” On my walk through the village cemetery, to and from school, I would pass the monument to and graves of the nine crewmen lost that night.
During the storm, flares were seen from a stricken vessel. Huge waves kept pushing the lifeboat back, but the crew fought for three hours in the dark and cold to get the lifeboat, Beauchamp, launched. An hour later she was found capsized on the beach and only three of the twelve crewmen were saved.
At the inquest into their deaths, when asked why the crew had persisted in the rescue, retired coxswain James Haylett said, “They would never give up the ship. If they had to keep at it ’til now, they would have sailed about until daylight to help her. Going back is against the rules when we see distress signals like that.”
His response led to a popular local motto, “Caister Men Never Turn Back.” A short walk from the lifeboat house is the Never Turn Back pub. There is even a song, complete with our local Norfolk accent, about the disaster, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9IRpDEPf0E&feature=youtu.be. Never Turn Back is a cultural legacy that has nurtured resilience and service among my forebears.
The last two months I have been reminded of the righteous tenacity and selfless gallantry epitomized by the Caister Lifeboatmen in the body of Christ at St. John’s. As we have been battered by this pandemic, we have adapted and persisted.
Assaulted by waves of fear and frustration, we have surmounted steep learning curves to continue worshiping and connecting online. Lifelines have been offered through calls and correspondence to fellow members struggling in the dark, in cold loneliness and anxiety. We have sacrificed our own liberty to protect those at risk. And we are modifying our outreach so we can offer life rafts to those adrift in the storm.
We will not be turned back. Our building may be closed but our church and its mission is still very much alive.
I cannot thank you enough for your generosity. $4,790 was raised in the GiveAtHomeMN campaign to secure funding for our Farmers Market buyback program, providing local food shelves with fresh produce. At the same time, we have continued to receive donations to the Mustard Seed and Rectors Discretionary funds which allow us to meet needs in our congregation and local community as they arise.
It is not just about the money or service, but the hope, solidarity, encouragement, and love those acts of giving inspire. Knowing that your peers will not turn back from your plight is probably the biggest gift of all.
And to those whose ship is in trouble, I implore you to fire the flare. If you need practical or spiritual help, please call a member of the clergy, staff, or lay leadership. I have never been more certain since I left Caister that we are part of a community that will not give each other up. We have a God that will not give us up. When we see distress signals, we will not turn back.
Yours in gratitude and in Christ.