SEATTLE – When he arrives at the Seattle Seafarers Center, Jack Ipsen checks the list of ships docked that day on the Seattle waterfront.
Then he gathers copies of the day’s newspaper, along with magazines and crossword puzzle books — and rosaries — on his way to visit crewmembers who have been at sea for months.
As an intern with the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Seafarers’ Ministry, Ipsen, 21, is ready to extend these seafarers friendship and a connection to their faith.
“I love working with the church, and I love knowing that what I’m doing is advancing the mission of the church,” Ipsen said. When it comes to his work with the Seafarers’ Ministry, Ipsen explained, “the thing that makes it so special to a lot of people is the fact that we are Catholic.”
When Ipsen walks up a ship’s gangway with other volunteers, all the crewmembers see “is a [safety] helmet and a vest,” the University of Washington junior said. “They’re always very excited to see the Seamen’s Club,” as it is widely known. The Seafarers’ Ministry is the archdiocesan affiliate of Apostleship of the Sea.
Many of the seafarers he meets are Catholic, Ipsen said. Most are excited for the opportunity to talk about their families and home countries, but about a quarter of the time the conversation turns to faith, he said. “When that happens, it’s very important.”
Ipsen will speak about his experiences during the September 7 “Home from the Sea” shipboard luncheon hosted by Holland America Line to benefit the Catholic Seafarers’ Ministry (see info box).
Ipsen, a member of St. James Cathedral Parish, said he feels called to work with “groups and ministries that don’t get the attention they deserve.”
While attending O’Dea High School, he volunteered with his parish youth group, helping people with special needs and migrant families in the Skagit Valley. After high school, needing “a new mission,” Ipsen said, he interned with the archdiocese’s pastoral outreach office, where he learned about the Seafarers’ Ministry. That has become his latest mission.
“Jack is so 100 percent authentic in his faith, his care for humanity — he’s really extraordinary,” said Joe Cotton, the archdiocese’s director of pastoral care and of the Seafarers’ Ministry.
The Seattle Seafarers Center, on Marginal Way, has been the headquarters of the local seafarer outreach ministries of the Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran churches since 2015. Photo: Brian LeBlanc
Raising the profile of seafarers
The Seattle Seafarers Center, located in the shadow of the Spokane Street Bridge, houses an ecumenical partnership — the local seafarer outreach ministries of the Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran churches. The partnership was launched in 2015 after the archdiocese sold the Belltown building that was the longtime home of the Catholic Seamen’s Club.
Today, the center is a place for seafarers on shore leave to relax, contact their families, pick up some books or clothes and get mail, said Ipsen. It is also a base for volunteers who visit the ships, where they offer crewmembers a ride to the center or take them on shopping trips to buy supplies or gifts for their families back home.
On average, the volunteers visit two ships a day; typically each ship has a crew of 14 to 17, including the captain and officers. Although English is the language of the sea, the Seafarers Center has volunteers who speak Chinese, Tagalog and Bisaya (a Philippine language also known as Cebuano), so they visit ships where the majority of the crewmembers speak those languages.
Ken Hawkins, the executive director of the Seattle Seafarers Center, describes their work as “a ministry of presence” for seafarers, the vast majority of whom are men, who are isolated onboard for long periods. “Jack has that wonderful, humble spirit that encourages people to open up and share their lives,” Hawkins said.
For seafarers who can’t leave their ships due to visa issues or lack of seniority, the onboard visits are especially welcome, Ipsen explained.
Ipsen and his girlfriend (and fellow volunteer), Ann Marie Jawili, are dedicated to increasing the ministry’s visibility in the archdiocese. “One of the worst things that can happen is for a group of people to be invisible,” Ipsen said.
Jawili, the center’s webmaster, is working to build its social media presence. Ipsen and Jawili are also working on an updated logo for the Seafarers’ Ministry and a new sign for the building.
Ipsen’s efforts have had a great impact on the growth of the Catholic Seafarers’ Ministry, Cotton said.
“He embodies the Gospel,” Cotton said. “If you want to know what the Gospel looks like in the modern age, look at him.”
‘Home from the Sea’ luncheon
The annual “Home from the Sea” shipboard luncheon to benefit the Catholic Seafarers’ Ministry is slated for September 7 on the Seattle waterfront.
Auxiliary Bishops Daniel Mueggenborg and Eusebio Elizondo will be special guests for the event aboard Holland America Line’s Eurodam cruise ship.
Holland America is covering the cost of the event, so all proceeds will benefit the Seafarers’ Ministry, which supports seafarers on ships docking at the Port of Seattle.
The luncheon will be held from 10:15 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Pier 91; guests can tour the ship after lunch.
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