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Friday April 12 2019

Looking Back: Floating Parish at Aden

The Church of Scotland chaplain at Aden, in what is now Yemen, reports on work there in 1959

Aden has been in the news. A Federation of the States of the Protectorate has come into being. The people of this Federation are now on the way to greater control over their domestic affairs.

Aden is a point of tension. Here East and West meet and the ferment in the Middle East threatens to come to a head at any time. Aden is poised between Africa and Asia. It stands between the Soviet and the upsurging young nations of Africa.

The Church of Scotland has had a mission for many years at Sheikh Othman. Its hospital and evangelistic work has reached inland as well as serving the immediate community.

We also have a chaplain at the Port of Aden, the Rev. J. A. FLETCHER. He sends this report.

WE are largely a floating population here in the port of Aden; and our church is largely a floating church. Never did this so forcibly occur to us as when on Christmas Eve we took a launch out into the harbour to sing carols to the many ships while they sat out in the bay, bunkering or discharging cargo and passengers.

Here were ships of every nation under heaven, sojourners for about six hours, but five thousands of them every year whose total crews must number well over a hundred thousand

Here, with the British Sailors’ Society, the Church of Scotland has a special commission to serve “the sons of the deep” – the daughters too, for it is becoming more and more the custom of shipping lines to employ girls not only as stewardesses and nursing sisters, but as members of the navigating crew, as radio officers, log writers and much else.

Although they are in port usually for so short a time not a few contrive to join our service on a Sunday evening, and remember us though it may be two or three years before they can join us again.

Many needs

Always there is work for us to do. During the nine very hot months of our year the R.A.F. Hospital will seldom have less than a whole ward full of seamen, not to mention the sick at the B.P. Refinery Hospital, Little Aden, or at the new Queen Elizabeth Civil Hospital. These must be befriended, for the ship which is the sailors’ home has voyaged on to far away places. When he is discharged fit he has to be accommodated until a ship can be found to take him home or to rejoin his ship – and this may be anything up to six weeks.

A dead seaman is brought ashore for burial – a very lonely thing, for his shipmates have sailed on – unless the local congregation join in the committal. For the bereaved family in some far off country the last touch with their loved one is the letter from the “Seaman’s Padre.”

There are the “naughty boys” too, incarcerated in the Arab jail. They must be able to say of Christ’s servant “I was in prison and ye visited me.”

Aden is no place in which to have nothing to do. Within half a day the sights can be seen. Then there is little to entertain one, except to bathe or, what is fatally easy to do in a thirsty climate, to drink. Socials and small dances are greatly enjoyed, but are impossible without the ready co-operation of our church folk.

A new church

It is imperative that the location of our church should be quickly identified. The town of Steamer Point, due to reclamation of land from the sea, has receded into the hinterland. So has our Keith Falconer Church, erected by the pennies of the Sunday Schools of Scotland in the last century. It has moved away from the sea front and is now completely hidden away back in the Arab quarter. So often we are liable to be missed if we do not make ourselves known.

Our Merchant Navy House, which has befriended many a seaman, is needing to be replaced.

All our friends will rejoice with us at the news that the Church of Scotland and the British Sailors’ Society are to unite in building a new church and Sailors’ Hospice this year on the reclaimed land by the water’s edge at the Prince of Wales Pier where all come ashore.

The B.P. Refinery has gifted a new launch to reach the ships out in the harbour. This will be ready for service by October.

Scottish travellers through Aden must watch for the St. Andrews flag waving a welcome from kirk, hospice and launch.

The Rev John Arnold Fletcher stayed in Aden until 1964, when he returned to Scotland, ministering in Blackburn (West Lothian) until retirement in 1997.

Due to the deteriorating security situation, British troops were evacuated from Aden in 1967.

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