Quite fittingly, the international youth movement of Christian Endeavour, which links practically every land through its membership, and the rallying song of which is “blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love”, early in its history began to interest itself in the cause of the sailor.
Nine years after inception of Christian Endeavour the movement had spread to India, China and the British isles, “The floating Society of Christian Endeavour “came into existence. Like C.E. Itself, it began in New England States.
It is worthy of special note , as an evidence of religious inclination of the sailor, that both its inception and its introduction to England were due to the initiative of a sailor, not to the planning of folk on shore.
In 1890 a seaman on a United States government vessel, wishing to help his fellow Christians at sea, applied through a sailors missionary to a Miss Palmer Jones, of Falmouth, Massachusetts, asking that a “ Christian Intention Society” for sailors should be started. Miss Jones, in her turn, consulted the Rev. F.E Clark. The result was the drawing up of a PLEDGE AND CONSTITUTION SUITABLE FOR THOSE AT SEA.
Two years later, during an unemployment slump when many young men were leaving home, Dr Clark urged C.E Societies to write letters of encouragement to Christians at sea.
A few years later, the mate of the American Barque “Euphrosyne”, while visiting Liverpool in 1894, was the means of introducing floating C.E. to British Endeavourers.
The Liverpool floating Society of C.E. was thus the pioneer Floating Society in this country, formed on March 9th, 1894, under the leadership of Mr. W.H. Hope and Mr George Feltham. Similar introductions have taken place in Australia, South Africa and elsewhere. Indeed C.E itself owes its existence in Jamaica to an American sailor member who was in hospital there for a time.
At the 1900 World convention, in London , a floating Conference was held. This led to the formation of a London Floating Society in 1904, under Mr G J Hill. 1908 saw a visit from the Royal Navy to the Thames. Great extensions of F.C.E. membership and also support from C.E societies ensued.
In 1909 and 1910 these were full conventions sessions at Bristol and Liverpool Conventions. Mr Hill carried out campaigns aimed at increasing the scope of F.C.E. With Mr J H Stevens of London, pressed a link-up for all floating Societies.
At Christmas 1910 there was a visit of the U.S. fleet to the Thames. It seemed that some gifts were made/brought for the men on the ships. Letters of greeting were also enclosed. This was the start of the Christmas Evangelistic Effort.
1911, a cripple girl living in the East End of London was inspired to make a needle case from a used Christmas Card. It is believed that she was a dress maker.
1912, At the Glasgow Convention, the “Union of Floating C.E “. Was formed under the secretary- ship of Mr J G Hill who continued in office till his death in 1940.
When Mr Walter little took over as Secretary, he was the man for the task. As a letter writer he excelled, and no one knows the number of men that were influenced and helped all through his ministry as secretary. Throughout Mr Walter Little work there were other people who shared his role Mrs Churchman 1945 -1946 and Miss A.E Giller 1947 -1959
In 1948, a separate Christian Society was reformed by men of the Royal Navy. This continues today, and so our links with the Royal Navy decreased. It is good to note that one of its founders continued with his membership of F.C.E until he retired.
In the First World War, 311,885 hand written letters were sent out, and at least a quarter of a million needle cases and other gifts were distributed.
During the Second World War members were encouraged to start C.E. Societies on the ships in which they served. Maybe only two or three in a smaller ship, but more in the larger vessels. Meetings were held as and when they could, and many other men were influenced and led to the Lord in this way. The meetings were used in many ways, firstly to bring Fellowship to the Christians on board, and also to be a means of bringing the Gospel to others of their ship’s company. Sometimes the initial interest was “by mistake”....a visit to a sick –bay when a meeting was being held... a “ chance” visit to a cabin whilst the Christians were at prayer etc. But many of those “invited” or who “chanced upon” such Christian meetings on board, have had reason to be glad that they did, as they came under the Gospel call.
Following the home call of Mr little in March 1963, Roy and Gladys Eaton took over as joint Secretaries. With the decrease in British Merchant Navy and so many ships now having crews of all nationalities, it has been hard to continue the original aim of F.C.E... Serving Christians at sea but the Christmas work increased. Sadly Roy Eaton passed away some years ago and Gladys carried on with the work. Now due to ill health Gladys Eaton has retired having served forty nine years as Secretary to F.C.E. (1963 to 2012)
Many men and women are now serving on ships, have heard the Gospel, who would not otherwise hear it in their own country. Before the breaking down of the East/West barriers, FCE helpers would often be used to bring bibles and the gospel to visiting ships in UK ports. Now many say how effective this ministry was at the time, and even now work continues throughout the country as many missionaries visit ships in docks throughout the country .
Missioners from other organisations give out the ”Floating” gifts with their tracts in many languages. The secretaries have many letters from grateful crew members of all nationalities saying how thrilled they had been to receive a letter and little gifts from those who had taken the time to think about them at sea.
For over a hundred years......British Floating Christian Endeavour has been at work bringing the gifts of the land-locked C.E movement and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ .... To ...those who go down to the sea in ships, who do their business in great waters.
We thank all those who have assisted in this work. On behalf of all those who have benefited from your efforts throughout all these years ....we say a BIG
From the Committee of Floating Christian Endeavour UK.
F.C.E ......1894 - 2014
(Christian Endeavour’s Ministry to the seamen of the world.)