The sad death at sea of Gary Cornelius, one of our fisherman, has rather brought into focus the debt we owe to ‘those who go down to the sea in ships and whose business is in great waters’ to use the Old Testament words of Psalm 107.
Living in Hastings and St Leonards grants us the privilege of experiencing wonderful seascapes. I usually run along the promenade early in the morning and there is nothing more soothing than seeing a wonderfully calm and still sea. It helps to set the right tone for my day and I’ve also noticed a recent increase in the number of people meditating on the beach at an early hour.
But the ancient Hebrews knew a thing or two. Despite their mediterranean coastline, they were never a sea-going people unlike most of their contemporary civilisations.
The sea was seen as a place to be feared. The sea was considered to be a place of primeval chaos, the home of Leviathan the sea monster of chaos. It was God alone who could control the sea and maintain the order he had imposed upon the face of the deep at the Creation.
One of the highlights of Old Town Week was the centenary celebration of the Priscilla Macbean lifeboat, a project led by the redoubtable Dee Day White.
For a landlubber like me, it caused me to think afresh about the sea and the work of the Hastings RNLI and other sea rescue services. The death of Gary Cornelius ensured that any thoughts were not simply abstract.
The centenary celebration began at the RNLI where we reflected briefly about the beauty but also the danger of the sea and the way in which past crews of the Priscilla Macbean, its sister ship the Mary Stanford – whose entire crew, including three relatives of our current mayor, was lost at sea in 1928 – and the local crews of today answer the cries of those in peril on the sea. Lifeboats like the Priscilla Macbean have been arks of safety for those in need of rescue.
The sea is often used as a metaphor for describing life. We talk about someone being in deep water or being ‘in over their head’. We might feel ‘all at sea’ or recognise a need to ‘batten down the hatches’, particularly if we are ‘sailing too close to the wind’. Perhaps our most recent tragedy at sea and the centenary celebration of the Priscilla Macbean, might cause us, especially those of us unfamiliar with life at sea, to reflect about our calling to be metaphorical lifeboats on land to those who need our help.
The funeral for Gary Cornelius will be at All Saints on Friday, 27th August at 10.30am.
The Reverend Paul Hunt is the part-time priest-in-charge of St. Clement’s and All Saints in Hastings Old Town. All Saints is open for public worship at 8am and 10am on Sundays.