Christmas Day on the River

Dec 29, 2009

by the Rev. Michael Hammett, Chaplain (Ministry on the River)

The alarm clock dutifully roused me at 3:00 am on Christmas morning. No, I did not have toys to set out being “Santa” to young children. I was preparing to spend Christmas morning with AEP River Operations in Convent, LA.1 Quickly showering, shaving and pulling on my clothes laid out before bed (and making a to-go cup of strong coffee) I pulled out of my house in Baton Rouge for the drive to Convent, located downriver on the Mississippi toward New Orleans.

At 5:00 am, I met Port Captain Mark Murphy at the AEP building and we gathered up the Christmas on the River gift boxes (each containing a handknit scarf, small gifts, a devotional, and a handmade Christmas card by children), which had not yet been distributed. Mark would be “Santa” on the dock later and make sure that each boat had a box. In the Lower Mississippi River Region, where I serve, we distributed 448 Christmas gift boxes this holiday season. Each box represents donations of materials and time to pack them from River Friendly Churches across the country. Adult towboaters become like eager little children at Christmas to receive and dive into these simple expressions of love and care.

At 5:30 am, I was privileged to spend Christmas morning with crews from line and fleet boats as crew change occurred. Although some would be headed home to be with their families, a sizable group stayed on the dock and gathered in the cold as I shared the Christmas story and some reflections. In the simplicity of a cold and dark Christmas morning, we remembered that the humble birth of Jesus led to great transformations. We, too, are called to do great things with the gifts we receive from God.

As the brief service drew to a close, I shared a word of blessing that was printed on a Christmas card given to each person present. Besides an image of Santa kneeling before the infant Jesus—a favorite icon of mine to remind us of the true priorities of the season—were these words: “May a star always guide you and may the gifts of grace and peace be yours to both enjoy and give to others!”

1Editor’s Note: Over the 2009 Thanksgiving weekend, the AEP River Operations’ team in Convent, LA lost respected colleague Mark Meredith in a man overboard accident. SCI trustee and President of AEP River Operations Mark K. Knoy was on site within hours joined by SCI Ministry on the River Chaplain Michael Hammett.

In a December 4 email to the Board of Trustees, SCI’s President and Executive Director, the Rev. David M. Rider, wrote, “Our condolences go to trustee Mark Knoy and the AEP River Operations team who suffered a river fatality at Convent, LA earlier this week. Mark was on site within hours, and SCI was honored to be part of the pastoral response team. It reminds us again of the dangerous nature of maritime work and the quiet heroism of co-workers who respond instantly to a colleague in need.”