Galveston Seafarers Center's History
Galveston dates its ministry to seafarers from Civil War days when prayer services were held aboard blockaded ships. In the early 1900’s the Adoue Seaman’s Bethel provided bed, board and spiritual guidance to needy Seafarers for nearly half a century. Bertrand Adoue, the creator of the Adoue Seamen’s Bethel, has direct ancestors that still live in Galveston and support the Seafarers Center.
The present ministry began as an ecumenical venture of the Episcopal, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic Churches. Supported by various churches representing these faiths as well as the Men’s Propeller Club, the West Gulf Maritime Association, Galveston Maritime Club and other generous donors, it expresses the continuing concern of the entire community for the personal and spiritual well being of the many seafarers from around the world who enter our port.
The Center is located in the historic John Koobbel Building (circa 1870). In 1881 the building became the home of The Screwmen’s Benevolent Association of Galveston, the oldest union in Texas and remained so until 1977 when the Moody Foundation purchased the building. The Moody Foundation has provided use of the building to the United Ministry to the Port of Galveston for as long as it is used as the Seafarers Center.
In 1973, a group of concerned Galveston citizens – all members of local churches of many denominations founded what is known today as the Galveston Seafarers Center. Recognizing the needs of seafarers far from home, we offer a safe haven that provides rest and relaxation, recreation and games, phones for calling home, computers with internet service as well as wireless internet. Seafarers are welcome to browse through our many donated books, magazines and video tapes, as well as slightly used clothing donated by generous individuals. Our part time chaplain is available both on and off ships for spiritual guidance and counseling in addition to providing cell phone service for those Seafarers who are unable to leave their ship. The chaplain also maintains communications with Seafarers through letters and mail. We provide transportation from the docks to the Center as well as transport for nearby shopping. The Seafarers Center is part of a worldwide network of more than 600 Centers, any number of which can continue the service we begin here in Galveston. In return, other Centers can refer to us for continuance of their services.
The shipping industry is an integral part of the economic impact of the Port of Galveston and the City of Galveston. On board vessels transporting cargo from other countries are fathers, brothers, uncles and sons, mothers, sisters and daughters who labor far from home and look to the Seafarers Center as a place of respite and reconnection. While in port, Seafarers patronize local merchants and restaurants, worship in our churches, utilize the library and transportation system and share in the many festivals Galveston celebrates.
Since the mid 1800’s when prayer services were held aboard blockaded ships during the Civil War, Galveston has opened her arms to the men and women who work at sea. The Adoue Seaman’s Bethel that was formed in the early 1900’s has evolved to become the 21st centuries’ Seafarers Center that welcomed more than 15,000 visitors in 2006. Staffed by a part time chaplain and two dedicated employees, the Center offers counseling and advocacy, recreational opportunities, telephones and Internet services to reconnect with far away loved ones and attention to the many needs the seafarer might have while in port. For those Seafarers who cannot leave their vessel due to Homeland Security visa restrictions, we offer cell phone service to the ships, enabling them to contact home.
Seafarers return from Galveston to their long days at sea satisfied in knowing they are not unseen and forgotten, but a key element in the vitality of the Island. The Center humanizes those who place themselves in jeopardy for weeks at a time on the high seas, transporting goods from bananas to automobiles, to provide for their families.