America's First River Chaplain Retires

America's First River Chaplain Retires

The Rev. James (Jim) R. Wilkinson retires this year in April after over 11 years of service to the nation’s inland waterways community as their first full-time, fully-dedicated chaplain. In 1998, the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) called Wilkinson to head up Ministry on the River, a first-of-its-kind endeavor offering pastoral care to river mariners and their families in the United States.

Wilkinson’s ‘congregation’ of mariners spanned thousands of miles of moving waters from Pittsburgh, PA to Greenville, MS. Wilkinson visited mariners, often traveling with them on their vessels, and established a network of clergy and churches who serve as a resource to mariners traveling through their communities.

In his ministry as a chaplain with SCI, Wilkinson reminisces of both difficult times (like crewmember fatalities) and grand occasions (like christenings of new vessels). Voyaging through significant life experiences with mariners, Wilkinson says that he received many rewards. “I will never forget the many mariners I have met and will always have as friends.”

Prior to coming to SCI, Wilkinson served as a chaplain in the US Army. After retiring from the Army, Wilkinson’s bishop at that time recommended him for the newly created river chaplain position at SCI.

His shoes will be difficult to fill, according to SCI’s Executive Director, but adds that Wilkinson leaves SCI with a great inheritance. “Thanks to Jim, Ministry on the River’s infrastructure and its well-built reputation empowers this original ministry for wonderful things to come.”

About SCI’s Ministry on the River
Established in 1998, SCI’s Ministry on the River is the nation's only full-time pastoral care ministry on the Ohio and Lower Mississippi River systems. From Pittsburgh, PA to Houston, TX and points in between and beyond, a network of clergy and lay volunteers on the inland rivers serves as a resource to mariners and their families. The program, operating 365 days a year, includes boat visits, counseling services, fellowship, and collecting and distributing gifts for Christmas and Easter.

About SCI
Founded in 1834 and affiliated with the Episcopal Church, though nondenominational in terms of its trustees, staff and service to mariners, the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York & New Jersey (SCI) is the largest, most comprehensive mariners’ agency in North America. Annually, its chaplains visit thousands of vessels in the Port of New York and New Jersey, the Port of Oakland, and along 2,200 miles of America’s inland waterways. SCI’s maritime education facilities provide navigational training to nearly 1,600 mariners each year through simulator-based facilities located in Houston, TX and Paducah, KY. The Institute and its maritime attorneys are recognized as leading advocates for merchant mariners by the United States Government, including the US Congress, the US Coast Guard, and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the United Nations, the International Maritime Organization, the International Labor Organization and maritime trade associations.