Rev. Mr. Thurber’s Poem to the Seamen’s Bethel

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. 

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