Saturday, May 26, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 27

Expanded Seaman’s Center Opened at Port of Houston, June 1, 1971

One of the most interesting ministries in Texas Conference history has been providing spiritual and social services to seamen coming to our ports.  Galveston hosted a vibrant “Seaman’s Bethel” under the direction of Rev. J. E. Reifschneider and with generous subsidies from the Swedish Consul at Galveston. The Seaman’s Bethel provided a library with tracts in many languages, recreation, stationery and postage stamps, and always lots of coffee.   One obvious motivation for the center was to provide a wholesome alternative to the brothels, bars, and gambling dens around the port.

Improvements to the Port of Houston during the 20th century made it possible for Houston to supersede Galveston and establish itself as one of the most important ports in the world.  The Texas Conference recognized the possibilities of an expanded ministry and on June 1, 1971 participated in the opening of a larger Seaman’s Center at the Port of Houston

The Center occupied eight acres within easy walking distance of the moored ships.  A swimming pool and lighted soccer field provided recreational opportunities for the visiting seamen.  The Seaman’s Center was probably the most ecumenical institutions ever embraced by the Texas Conference.  In addition to a full time Methodist Chaplain, there were Roman Catholic, Presbyterian (USA),  Presbyterian (US), Missouri Synod Lutheran, Norwegian Lutheran,  and Episcopal Church chaplains.   

One year after its opening, the Methodist Chaplain, Rev. Sam Duree, was able to report a total attendance at the Center of over 34,000 men.  That figure was estimated to total about 25% of the men who came to the Port of Houston.  Rev. Duree organized field trips for the men to local attractions such as NASA, the Astrodome, and the zoo.  He also coordinated Sunday home visits with Methodists who took the seamen to church and then to dinner. 

Churches continue to provide these ministries.  The institution is now known as the Houston International Seafarer’s Center. 


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