Blessing of the Fleet, 2017

Eternal Father strong to save, who’s hand has bound the restless wave.

Who bids the mighty ocean deep, its own appointed limits keep.

 Oh hear us when we cry to thee, for those in peril on the sea.

The blessing of the fleet is one of those annual Sitka events that marks the passing of a year and re-binds me to my community.  I’m not a mariner but I love the sea and live in a seafaring town that would not be here without the ocean, its bounty, and the transportation routes originally defined by currents, tides and winds.  They put Sitka where it is.

Our living comes from seas unknown, our trust is placed in thee alone.

Protect us from the hidden rock, from tempest and from fear’s dread shock.

 Oh hear from heaven our humble cry, and watch and guard us from on high.

I remember broadcasting an early blessing of the fleet live on Raven Radio.  At that time a pastor threw the memorial wreath into the sea at the end of the service.  The pastor’s Labrador Bay Retriever made a spectacular retrieval, happily bringing the wreath back to his master and, in front of the assembled clergy, shaking.  I remember using every death and resurrection metaphor I could think of trying to describe it to the radio audience.  Dogs not on leashes are discouraged.

The name of each person in anyway connected to the fleet who has died this year is called out and a ship’s bell rung.  As I get older more people I know are on the list.  Loved ones put a flower, or many flowers into a basket.  Instead of throwing them directly into the sea the assembled clergy and families of those lost parade down to a Harbor Department boat that carries them into deeper water, away from dogs, but not necessarily from sea lions.

Eternal Father, Lord of Hosts, what o’ver all those who guard our coasts.

Protect them from the raging seas, and give them light and life and peace.

Grant them from Thy great throne above the shield and shelter of Thy love.

Pastor Jim Drury, who used to serve Sitka Lutheran Church wrote that verse to honor our Coast Guard.  This year Jim’s name was one of those read out.

In this community commemoration musicians perform sea songs, the Sitka Sacred Harp form their singing square to sing, and the Coast Guard presents the colors.  At the end comes the benediction.

God speed the boats, their nets and lines, their tackle and gear, their captains and crews.  God speed the boats, in fair weather and foul, in success and disappointment, in rain and fog, in storm and sunshine.  God bless all the boats in all the harbors of Sitka.

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