Shortly before Sea Watch 4 set out on its first search-and-rescue mission, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), gave the crew members a send-off with a travelling blessing. Bedford-Strohm said that, after the christening in Kiel of the ship - supported by a coalition including the EKD - its launching was “a very special moment” for him personally. But, he added, thousands of other people were also now holding the crew members in their hearts. “They donated the money for Sea Watch 4 to be purchased in the first place,” he explained.
The United4Rescue coalition, founded at the end of 2019 on the EKD’s initiative, has brought together over 550 organisations and institutions to support civil rescue from distress at sea. “They are all united in the belief that people must not be allowed to drown. They must be rescued. And you are now going to sea to do just that,” Bedford-Strohm told the crew in a video message. “You want to save human lives and I would like to send you off with the age-old words of blessing from the Bible that have accompanied people for thousands of years.” The video closes with Aaron’s Blessing, which is repeated in Protestant congregations at the end of every service: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.”
United4Rescue used donations to buy the rescue ship at auction in January and the christening ceremony took place in Kiel in February. After its transfer to the shipyard and reconstruction for its new purpose, the coronavirus pandemic caused a delay of several months before the ship could go to sea for the first time.
Founding the coalition was sparked by a resolution adopted at the German Protestant Kirchentag in 2019, calling on the EKD and its member churches to send a ship themselves for search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean. After thorough discussions the EKD Council and Synod decided to place this project in the context of a broad-based civil society coalition.
“I am grateful that the commitment of so many people has led to this rescue ship putting to sea today,” said the EKD Council chair. “We want Europe to see that the policy of looking away is unacceptable and we can no longer stand idly by. The ship has a double mission: to provide humanitarian assistance and to send a political signal that we will continue to get involved.”
The video message is available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-QIBM9_9DI.
Hanover, 15 August 2020
EKD Press Office