Raised with a fishing rod in his hand, 73- year-old William Hempel of the Albany Maritime Ministry has always been drawn to water.
The Capital District proved no different for the Long Island native. By day, this pastor led the congregation at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church adjacent to Washington Park. But his avocation led him to the Port of Albany, where he had the privilege to volunteer by assisting the building of “The America” replica, after which America’s Cup was named.
When some troubled workers found out about his ministerial role and his doctorate in counseling, he became “Father Bill” with a fisherman’s cap.
Before long, he was heading the port’s Maritime Ministry that welcomed seafarers from around the globe. After being on the ocean for as much as a month, these men couldn’t wait to call home. Necessities such as phone cards and shuttles to Walmart for underwear, clothing and odds and ends attracted eager crews.
“We welcome them,” he said simply.
Their needs are a bit unique because of the distance from their home.
“They might have just lost a dad or have a child in the hospital while they’ve been away,” Hempel said. “They may have been with the same 15 or 20 men for several weeks, and they just want to share their burdens with someone who will listen.”
“Christmas at Sea” is one of the programs administered by the ministry that brings together donations from churches, scout troops, civic clubs and the like. They fill up seasonally wrapped shoeboxes stuffed with gloves, writing paper, other basics and goodies. Knowing that these men will be at sea and homesick on Christmas Day, donors are encouraged to put a special touch to the gift.
The Albany Maritime Ministry is completely staffed by volunteers who work as receptionists, drivers and ship visitors.
When asked about his active senior lifestyle, Hempel replied: “As we get older, you may slow down, but your desires don’t need to.”
There are seafarers all over the world who are glad for that.
To volunteer or contribute, see their website at www.albanymm.us or call 426-9153.
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