Hakai Magazine

Deacon Mark Moeller stands beside Flussschifferkirche
Deacon Mark Moeller stands beside Flussschifferkirche, a pontoon-cum-church that’s docked in the port of Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Andreas Muenchbach

Coastal Job: Port Deacon

A deacon finds there’s no better way to serve Hamburg’s port workers than from a floating church.

Authored by

As told to Michelle Tchea

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Some people work in cubicles, others work in kitchens, but the most intriguing workplace of all may be the coast. Meet the people who head to the ocean instead of the office in our Coastal Jobs series.

Deacon Mark Moeller of Hamburg, Germany, offers spiritual guidance to the seaport’s shipbound workers. Conveniently, he serves his congregants from one of Europe’s few floating churches.  

I grew up in a small town on the coast. The sea’s calming influence has definitely shaped my spirituality and way of thinking, and has helped me through some difficult times. For four years I served as a port chaplain on the Thames in London, England, assisting seafarers from all over the world. Then I took over as deacon of Flussschifferkirche, a floating Evangelical Lutheran church that has been in service since 1952.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Flussschifferkirche is the church bell on the roof, and the symbol of a cross interwoven with an anchor on the bow. Inside, the church feels nautical and old-fashioned. Model ships gently sway from the ceiling. There’s a small organ and a piano. At the moment, there’s a limit on how many people can be in the church, but we usually have 50 to 70 people at our Sunday service.

One of the benefits of this position is that there is no typical day. My day might start with someone calling to request a confirmation service. Then I might print off our Polish newsletter so one of our 25 volunteers can distribute it to the Polish port workers. Or a group of tourists might knock at my door asking to peek into the church. A couple might visit to celebrate their wedding anniversary back where they married.

Just today a coxswain called me about getting married here next year. He met his fiancée in the port, so that’s where he wants to wed. Like a ship, relationships can be shaky. When you get married at Flussschifferkirche you might realize that, with the right foundation, you can ride out the waves of life.

We have a barge in addition to the floating church. So every few weeks some volunteers and I take the barge out to visit riverboat workers, who often have no time to get ashore for weeks or months as they transport cargo down the Elbe. The port is as big as Cologne, Germany, so even though we stay out for several hours, we never manage to visit them all on a single trip.

Whenever we come along, the people on board are usually happy to interrupt their work to make small talk. Once they get to know us, they might open up about their problems—the pressures of their jobs or challenging family situations. Others just need to hear a blessing. Mostly my work is about keeping an open ear and heart.

On Saint Nicholas Day—which celebrates the patron saint of children who became an inspiration for Santa Claus—we have a tradition of visiting a local school with a man dressed up as Saint Nicholas. Last year, the holiday fell on a very rainy, windy, and cold day. We took the barge, and just as we prepared to dock, a gust of wind swept the wig off Saint Nicholas’s head and into the river. A volunteer scooped it out of the water and handed it back. Saint Nicholas looked at the wet thing for a moment, wrung it out, and put it on again. He looked absurd, but he put on a brave face for the kids.

Together, with many committed volunteers, I hope to continue offering the church as the living room of Hamburg’s port. If people working on the water see us as friends and neighbors connecting them to the church, then we have succeeded.

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Cite this Article:

Cite this Article: Michelle Tchea “Coastal Job: Port Deacon,” Hakai Magazine, Dec 22, 2020, accessed May 27th, 2024, https://hakaimagazine.com/article-short/coastal-job-port-deacon/.

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