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News of our work in India & Bangladesh May - October 2005

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"DOWN TO THE SEA" by Bill Down

This book tells the story of a remarkable life. Born in 1934 into a strongly Christian family, Bill Down had a happy and cheerful childhood but with no thoughts of ordination. As a schoolboy he wanted to join the Navy, but two severe illnesses made this impossible. Conversion, and commitment to serving God as a priest, came at Cambridge, and was followed by a period as a parish priest which he enjoyed. But the work which was to occupy most of his life, combining his Christian ministry with his first love of the sea, was his appointment, first as Chaplain and then as General Secretary, to the Missions to Seamen.

This proved an enormous task, and Bill travelled to seaports all over the world visiting the Mission's local organisations, supervising their Flying Angel Clubs and setting up new ones, in which seafarers could find respite and entertainment after often long periods at sea. He called on ships in port and made contact with their crews. The story is enlivened by accounts of individual sailors and their problems with which he had to deal, in many cases also bringing them to a knowledge and love of Christ.

During this time the world shipping pattern changed drastically with the coming of container ships. These speeded up the time spent in ports as loading and unloading of cargoes became so much quicker, and smaller crews were needed. At the same time the cruise ship industry was overtaken by air travel. The Mission and its Clubs had to change to respond to these altered circumstances, and Bill had to work out how this should be done. Ecumenical co-operation was one satisfying answer to this challenge, together with more devolution to local churches.

It was a demanding ministry, and involved a prodigious amount of travelling. In 1977 alone he visited 'Colombo, Singapore, twenty ports in Australia, five in New Zealand, Suva in Fiji, Hong Kong, Kobe and Yokohama in Japan, and New York'. As a result he had to spend considerable periods away from his wife Sally and their four children, but the family remained close and devoted.

Bill's work with the Missions to Seamen was the most enjoyable and deeply fulfilling of his life. But by 1990 he felt the need for a new challenge, and found this in his appointment as Bishop of Bermuda. This beautiful island had its own problems, and he had to take some difficult decisions. But there were many good friendships, and happy memories as well, when five years later he returned to England. After a short period as Assistant Bishop in Leicester, he finally retired as Honorary Assistant Bishop of Oxford.

This is a fascinating book, and the story is told with cheerfulness and humour. H.R.H. Princess Anne, long-time President of the Missions to Seamen (now Seafarers), contributes a warm and friendly message at the beginning. On a visit to Calcutta in 1976 Bishop Bill discovered and admired the work of the Oxford Mission. He first joined its UK Committee in 1984, and regularly visits all the Mission stations. We are fortunate indeed to have such an enthusiastic, experienced and much-travelled President.

For details of how to order Down to the Sea, see the Publications section of this website.

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