- One Firm Anchor: The Church and the Merchant Seafarer, an Introductory History by R. W. H. Miller
One Firm Anchor is more than a mere introduction to maritime mission work and the religious life of sailors. Instead, R. W. H. Miller has utilized a host of primary documents to write a thought-provoking missiology (study of missions) that incorporates not only the Catholic Church’s efforts to administer to the spiritual needs of seafarers but also similar efforts by other evangelical and charitable organizations, both denominational and nondenominational. Miller concentrates, however, on Great Britain and the Catholic Church because most sources regarding maritime missions are British and Catholic. Keeping this limitation in mind, he adeptly corrects the omissions and inaccuracies of other historians, especially Peter Anson. Although Anson (The Church and the Sailor, 1949) was, according to Miller, “the first significant maritime missiologist” who “paved the way for others to follow” (p. 15), his vague footnotes coupled with recent discoveries of additional primary documents made an updated treatment necessary. Miller carefully lays out [End Page 101] the general trends of maritime mission work before more in-depth analysis of individual missionaries and organizations. Before the Reformation, sailors tended to stay close to shore (short-sea shipping) and were viewed as any other member of the Church under the authority of their geographically based bishop. There was no need, therefore, for a separate mission to seafarers. The Reformation, however, brought about a dramatic change by breaking up the once homogeneous Church’s clear line of authority. Shipboard services now varied by the denominational beliefs of the captain. The parish system still worked for those on land and seafarers who stayed close to home, but sailors traveling far from home were viewed as wayfarers without a bishop. Protestants and nondenominational organizations were first to come up with creative solutions. Waterside missions, floating churches, and Salvation Navy services aboard ships gave maritime evangelists a platform to convert the so-called “degraded” sailor. The Catholic Church, however, was less than effective until the turn of the century when a study of Protestant efforts by Valentine Francis Taubman-Goldie, S.J., prompted similar missionary efforts by the Catholic Truth Society and others.