Sunday, March 14, 2010

What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?

New Bedford, Massachusetts - In the 1800's this was an important whaling port, and whaling was a thriving industry. It was important to many of our coastal communities.

However, all was not without conflict. It seems that the town was quite concerned about behavior of the whalers while they were in port. "Whale men sought out gambling dens, brothels, saloons, and dance halls." It was thought by the citizens that such behaviors were detrimental to the good of the community.

So how does a community handle this? What would we do today? It's a tough problem, to be sure. But suppose that in today's society the town leaders decided to arrange for church services and then later built a church? Is it hard to imagine the ACLU or similar organizations jumping into the situation with a lawsuit on the basis of "separation of church and state"? But New Bedford, the town leaders did exactly what I described. The result was a church that is today one of the National Park Service's Historic Parks: The Seamen's Bethel.

Here is part of that story according to the NPS website:

As the whaling industry grew, more and more men were needed to man the many whaleships leaving the port. At various times, the number of seamen in Bedford Village ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 — nearly equaling the population of the village! The lives of these whale men were quite a contrast to those of the local citizens. Whale men sought out gambling dens, brothels, saloons, and dance halls — establishments which, as the leading citizens observed, were “detrimental to the dignity and good order of our community.” In addition, Quaker whaling merchants were concerned that the whale men spent the wages of a multi-year voyage in just a few days on such pursuits, leaving them broke and without means of support.

What to do? In 1830, the leading citizens of the town met to discuss the situation and as a result of that meeting the New Bedford Port Society for the Moral Improvement of Seamen was organized. They immediately offered church services to whale men before they shipped out on whaling voyages. Services were held either down at the waterfront or in the Town Hall. The long-term impracticality of waterfront services and the difficulty of constantly arranging to use the Town Hall soon led the Port Society to conclude that they needed their own building. In 1832, the Seamen’s Bethel was dedicated as a nondenominational church and serves today in that capacity.

Read more here:

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Great article! Maybe if our federal government used this same idea for the war with Islam.