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goodbye-church-new-york-floatingThe last of the floating churches was towed to pasture in 1910, via seamenschurch-archives.org

Drinking, cussing, and raising Cain: where have all the mariners gone? The pretty boys who come aboard during Fleet Week are so polite. But Manhattan’s no longer a port city, and the containerization of shipping has kidnapped shore leave: loading and unloading is so fast, seamen barely have time for the line at Starbucks. Untapped Cities mourns the old days, when carousing bands of sailors were still a threat to pure womanhood, and the only way to keep an old salt in line was with the dreadful terror of God. Meet the Seamen’s Church Institute and its floating churches.

seaman's-church-institute-new-yorkSeamen’s Church Institute Meeting, via MCNY blog

The Seamen’s Church Institute was founded in 1834 by a group of Episcopalian sailors and operates to this day. Their first big project was the Church of Our Savior, a floating church moored off Pike Street in downtown Manhattan. [Note: Untapped Cities does not know to which city agency one should apply for a permit for a floating church…yet.]

floating-church-new-yorkThe second Church of Our Savior, via Library of Congress

The first Church of Our Savior, “an object of attention and a marked institution of our city,” according to quickly disintegrated and SCI scuttled in in 1866. A second Church of Our Savior was built, excuse me, floated, in the same spot in 1870.

new-york-church-interior-floatingInterior of the Church of our Savior, via seamenschurch-archives.org

The Church hosted services, a reading room, and a temperance society “which cheated the saloons of hundreds of victim.” SCI was not immodest about their contribution to sailor’s character: “his great improvement in bearing and general appearance is the manifest fruit of the Church’s enterprise on this line in his behalf.”

floating-church-new-yorkChapel of the Holy Comforter, via NYCago

In their heyday, SCI actually operated two floating churches. Besides the Church of our Savior in the East River, the Chapel of the Holy Comforter was moored in the Hudson. In 1868, when maintenance costs became excessive, SCI disposed of this church.

philadelphia-floating-churchFloating Church of the Redeemer, via Hidden City Philadelphia

Lest you think our city has a monopoly on seaworthy chapels, the Seamen’s Church Institute of Philadelphia and South Jersey, founded along the lines of the New York Institute, also built a floating church in 1848, for the “unpolished mariners who felt out of place being in church next to well-dressed ladies.” Unfortunately, the turbid waters of the Delaware made everyone seasick, and this house of God barely lasted five years.

London-floating-barge-churchSt. Peter’s Barge, via Flickr User Grahamc99

Though the last floating church of New York was towed away in 1910, the tradition lives on in London. Here’s hoping some enterprising minister gets his sea legs under him and re-baptizes the Hudson.

1 Comment

  1. Andy Pierce says:

    I’m the editor of the Constant Contact based newsletter called “The Messenger” for the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York. I’d like to re-publish this article in our newsletter, with your permission. I will of course provide a link to this website and give all credit you for the content.

    Thanks for considering this request!

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