From a Lay Leader's Desk

A series of opinion articles from lay leaders in our synod.



May 07, 2020

By Henryk Behnke, Seafarers International House Director of Development & Communications



(New York City - May 2020). The ambulances are arriving. Seafarers International House (SIH) is helping in the fight for people’s lives one bed at a time. More beds used by recovering COVID-19 patients at Seafarers International House today mean more beds available for desperately ill COVID-19 patents in NYC hospitals.

Located within the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, SIH has made adjustments to its usual mission of welcoming seafarers and immigrants to the guesthouse in Manhattan. In mid-April the board of directors of SIH felt compelled to continue the mission of hospitality by temporarily making the guesthouse available to people in our local community who are recuperating from the virus. Therefore, SIH has partnered with “Comunilife” – another not-for-profit agency that provides respite care for displaced hospital patients. SIH plans to resume regular guesthouse operations starting July 30, the date of the major fundraiser, the Setting the Course Banquet. Book your room or reserve your ticket now at,

As a mission that has responded to God’s call for over 147 years to welcome the displaced, Seafarers International House feels like it is being called anew during these desperate hours “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) to respond to the pandemic medical needs right in SIH’s neighborhood.


At the same time, SIH continues to provide housing to seafarers and asylees, but in another location in Manhattan, so that they don’t risk mingling with COVID-19 patients in the guesthouse. Some detention centers are releasing asylum seekers, who are then at risk of facing homelessness. With travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine, many seafarers are stranded not being able to fly to foreign ports to join their ships. The “re-located SIH guesthouse” at a mid-town hotel insures rooms for both asylees and seafarers during this crisis.

Meanwhile, in the ports, SIH carries out its port mission to assist seafarers. Many face to face ship visits are not being allowed now, but fortunately some of SIH’s port chaplains can continue boarding ships, using PPE, and safely providing “gangway ministry” as well as electronic communication to spiritually and practically assist exhausted seafarers, who are so vital in maintaining our supply chains, especially during this time of global interruption. 

To care for mariners who feel lonely out at sea or are in different time zones, SIH is working with the International Christian Maritime Association to provide live chats with a chaplain.

For such a time as this, asylum seekers released from detention and seafarers on ships or stranded in New York City, find devoted SIH staff members caring for their immediate needs in the ports and in Manhattan. And, the SIH guesthouse now provides beds to those community members recuperating from COVID-19.

Who we are: Seafarers International House (SIH) is the Lutheran response to the urgent needs of vulnerable seafarers and immigrants.

A social ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) in America, primarily related to the Metropolitan New York Synod of the ELCA, Seafarers International House offers pastoral care, hospitality, social assistance, and advocacy to a multi-national and multi-faith community in maritime ports on the Eastern Seaboard (Baltimore, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia), and in an 84-room Guesthouse in New York City.  In 2019, SIH served a total of 38,225 people.  This included visiting 18,353 and transporting 10,114 seafarers. SIH also provided 5,214 lodging nights and social services to seafarers (218), asylum seekers (36), and domestic violence, human trafficking, and local disaster survivors (68).  These figures do not include regular travelers, who lodge at SIH and in regular times provide income to support the mission.

For more details, to make a reservation at the SIH guesthouse starting July 30, or to support this ministry please visit or send an email to [email protected]. If you are a seafarer in need of accommodation in Manhattan, please also reach out to at [email protected] or call (917) 284-2933.


Photo credits: 
An ambulance in front of the guesthouse brings patients recovering from COVID-19. Photo by Marsh Luther Drege. Port Chaplain Arnd (right) assists seafarers on the MSC Busan. 

For additional information contact:
Henryk Behnke
Director of Development & Communications
[email protected]