5. Port Newark holds a hidden church dedicated to mariners
Hidden amidst the bustling 1,000-acre Port-Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal is the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI), an Episcopal Church-affiliated organization that serves mariners by providing them with education, pastoral care, and legal advocacy. Founded in 1834, the Institute is the largest and most comprehensive mariner’s agency in the United States. Every year, the organization’s chaplains visit over 2,000 vessels in the Port of New York and New Jersey and along the American inland waterway system. Since 1961, the Seamen’s Church Institute has operated a seafarer’s center in the Port of Newark. When the Institute first opened, entire ships were able to disembark in the port’s dock, but that has since changed, due to more stringent visa requirements. As a result, SCI chaplains, when requested, will now head onto the ships themselves, warmly greeting mariners to the United States. The Institute’s current chaplain is of Filipino descent, reflecting that more than 65% of the 1.5 million international mariners hail from the Philippines.
Today, the Institute can be found in Port Newark past the curve in the road along Export Street. The current center was constructed between 1964 and 1965 as an expansion on a previously existing one-floor structure that has since been destroyed. In 2009, the center underwent a $10 million renovation in honor of the organization’s 157th anniversary. Though the organization’s chapel no longer holds regular services, it remains an important symbol of its work. The center provides mariners with computers, recreational spaces, and SIM cards for calling home — given that 70% of all international ships to the U.S. come through the port. In addition, the Institute coordinates the annual Christmas at Sea program, which gives knitted hats, scarves, and toiletries as holiday gifts to mariners.