I’ve been working through a few projects this past week for my internship, and working with the microfilm has certainly been exciting! (But more on that later.) One of my tasks was looking into the history of the plaque outside the Seamen’s Bethel in New Bedford. I found this poem, printed in The Morning Mercury, which was read at the tablet’s ceremony.
Just one hundred years ago
When people and ships were very slow
And this town was full of men and boys you know
Looking for a ship on a whaling voyage to go
They came from every shore and land
From Greenland’s icy mountains
From India’s coral strand
Where Afric’s sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand.
Like waifs upon the ocean they drifted o’er the Sea of Life
With few to aid or pity them as they struggled with sin and strife
‘Twas then our fathers saw the need
Of a “Seamen’s Bethel” so to grant them moral and
Spiritual shelter indeed
So the founding of this Bethel came within their sacred plan
For to snatch from the vile the vicious and the brothel every single sailor man
How well their work was finished we want the world to know
For the Sailor’s Church our fathers builded has lived through gale, flood, and fire since one hundred years ago.
The builders of this Seamen’s Bethel have long since gone to their eternal rest
Our ships with their crews of that ago their final resting places well – God knows best
But the “Seamen’s Bethel” treasured and held in hallowed memory by them so
Still lives for she was founded upon a rock one hundred years ago.
In a twofold manner ‘tis not fiction but ‘tis true
That boulder girths our harbor and it binds Johnny Cake Hill too
Upon that rock this dear old Bethel stands
Still another rock is her foundation which can ne’er be destroyed by the use of mortal hands
With that truth the hearts of our fathers were aglow
Our fathers who preached here one hundred years ago
For Christ is that rock upon which she is founded
By His “Sea of Love” like an island all men are surrounded
From her pulpit this theme has been preached through
Summer’s heat and winter’s drifting snow
The unchangeable God’s love so earnestly preached here one hundred years ago.
We still offer men the same salvation just as full and as copiously free
The men of the land and the men of the sea
The invitation by sermon has been offered every week
The choir provides fine music while the spiritually hungry at their Father’s table do eat
They then go out and tell others who are happy to know
Of a little Church Around the Corner where they may worship as they did one hundred years ago.
And during the year of nineteen and twenty-nine
Our congregations have followed along in the same old-fashioned line
For the total number of worshipers county 6195 who have passed through the Bethel’s door
Who prayed and sand in the same old time spirit of one hundred years ago and more
Of this number 1957 burdened seamen knowing not where else to go
Brought to this sacred altar their soul, their sin and their homesick feelings just as the homesick sailor lads did one hundred years ago
Now the old time ships have unbent their sails
And the old time seamen have fought their last gales
Yet to the aged Seamen’s Bethel sailors still come and go
Just as they came here to worship one hundred years ago
The needy also came as in days of yore
For during 1929 we’ve materially cared for just eighty-four
Forty of these men were destitute and sorely in need
Five had been shipwrecked and were stranded indeed
Other than the Mariner’s Home they knew not where to go
Just as shipwrecked and stranded seamen sought its shelter one hundred years ago
Also we’ve cared for the afflicted, the sick and the dead
Ninety-one services for the departed we’ve said
Of this number sixty-eight were men of the sea
Or a member of a sailor’s family as the case might be
This custom has always been followed as past records will show
Since the birth of this society one hundred years ago
So you’re speaking out old Bethel, you’re declaring to burdened men
What a joy, what a blessing to aching heart these long years you’ve been
Like a beacon on the hilltop you’ve helped to guide the straying seamen home.
The weather vane at your truck the changing winds to men you’ve shown
And to the wanderer far and near, high and low
You’ve proven that God’s love is not fickle like the wind, or
Shifting like the weather vane, but it’s always the same just as it was one hundred years ago
The aged barks of faithfully revolving on your lofty spine
Reflects the fancies of your worthy sires
Our father modeled that ship this sailors’ church to adorn
To show to men whether the wind blows east or west or gale be short of long.
They, too, need a ship and a pilot who can outride every blow
Just as that ship has weathered every gale since one hundred years ago.
When men read the tablets that tell the saddened tale
Of the way those brave fellows were stricken down by shark, by whale or gale
Our hearts turn to God in deep gratitude and in sincere prayer
Because those old time sailor men placed these cenotaphs there
If our dear ones are in the great and mighty deep
Sit not on its shore line in sorrow, grieve and weep
If they have no cenotaph to mark their final resting place
Let’s enshrine them in our hearts there we’ll find an open space
Then that tablet you may carry with you every single place you go.
That’s the way the cenotaphs to the sacred memory our
New Bedford seamen started just one hundred years ago.
– Rev. Mr. Thurber
Source: The Morning Mercury (New Bedford,) “Memorial Tablet To Whalemen Presented to Seamen’s Bethel,” August 2, 1930.