Traditions make up the culture of the river, and one of the most treasured is that of the mentor. While the exact process or definition of a mentorship can be elusive, that time honored tradition of a more experienced crew member helping to guide a less experienced crew member over time lives on today, and is still being passed on to our next generation of river folk!
Today’s Mentor Monday features the reflections of Tom Rhoades, Maritime Chaplain for The Seamen's Church Institute of NY & NJ, sharing with us the story of his mentor RVD Kempton “Chaps” Baldridge!
My life changed when Chaplain Kempton Baldridge walked into my galley in 2010. Our boat was dry-docked and getting new cort nozzles in Paducah. With a white hat, white hair, and white smiling teeth, “Chaps” stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Chaplain Baldridge from the Seamen’s Church Institute.” Before Chaplain Baldridge left, I asked, “Could you bring me Communion?” The next day he delivered the body and blood, and from that time forward, Chaplain Baldridge has been my mentor in maritime and ministry.
The word coming to mind as I think about “Chaps” is relentless. First, it was giving me attention on boats, then encouraging me to become an SCI Associate Chaplain, then he convinced me to apply for an SCI port chaplain which turned into a full-time river and gulf chaplaincy, and now he continues supporting me.
Early on, I always resisted his pursuit to become a maritime chaplain. Then, my mom was killed in a car accident on September 1, 2014. I received so much care from Chaplain Baldridge and church friends, that I realized I had to start giving back. Chaplain Baldridge reminded me more than once that I was obligated to share all my gifts, not just my culinary skills.
Having been a pastor from 1999-2008, I started tip-toeing my way back into ministry after mom’s death. Chaplain Baldridge arranged for me to preside at Wayne “Hoot” Wilcox’s funeral in Paragould, AR, fill the pulpit for St. Matthews on the Lake Lutheran Church in Benton, KY, and attend Crisis Pastoral Care training in Atlanta.
As a mentor, Chaplain Baldridge has loved me back to life after having experienced a difficult time being a church pastor. Relentlessly, he sees the best in me and reminds me often of my best qualities. Relentlessly, Chaplain Baldridge pursues big dreams and gets me involved. Two years ago, he and maritime Chaplain Winston Rice formed the Maritime Pastoral Training Foundation. The MPTF mission is to train maritime chaplains in deckplate ministry. When he told me that the MPTF was going to purchase “The Last American PT Boat” to conduct onboard training, I was skeptical. But the to-be-christened, T/S Jesse L. Brown is now purchased and awaiting transport from CA to Jeffersonville, IN.
Not long ago, I received mail from Chaplain Baldridge appointing me as Secretary/Treasurer of the MPTF. I always hated the appointment system of the United Methodist Church, but I’ll let Chaplain Baldridge appoint me for about anything. Those of us who know Chaplain Baldridge well, understand how hard it is to say, “no” to him because his heart is always in the right place, supporting the mariner.
In 2009, Chaplain Baldridge left All Saints Episcopal Church in Waterloo, Belgium after 11 years as rector to become a maritime chaplain for SCI. Since that time, he has relentlessly recruited pastors and laypeople for maritime ministry. We currently have 36 Chaplain Associates along our waterways and on the east coast. Chaplain Baldrige’s vision for maritime chaplaincy is not only geographically expansive but it is also inclusive. Imam Hassan Ali, and Rabbis Jonathon Siger and James Apple are among our Associate Chaplain Corps. Chaplain Baldridge believes all faith traditions should be supported by their own traditions. The depth of this respect is deeply appreciated by our non-Christian Mariners and Seafarers. Chaplain Baldridge reminds me often that our chaplain duty is to be, “empty vessels without any agenda except to care for our shipmates.” Chaplain Baldridge’s compassion is for our common humanity, accepting others regardless of their faith, politics, heritage, sexuality or anything else that divides or dehumanizes persons. His spirit of mentorship flows out of his faith that God’s love is infinite. God does not love us because we are Christian, but because we are human.
Love without condition is why so many of us come under the “Chaplain Baldridge spell” as Chaplain Associate Dr. William Coscarelli names it. “Chaps” lets us know that we matter and are loved by both him and God every time he sees us on our vessels, sends us a card, or responds to us on social media. His passion for me has changed my life and continues changing it. He has supported me to re-enter ministry and not be afraid of failure, relentlessly pointing out what is best in me.
If mentorship is loving people and relentlessly going with them through their ups and downs, then Chaplain Baldridge has succeeded with me and I am deeply appreciative. I know there are many others who are thankful for “Chaps” as well.
We would like to help YOU tell the story of your mentor to our community! Who helped make you, you? When was the first time they trusted you? What piece of advice do you come back to, over and over? Why did their style of leadership stick with you? Sharing the journey of your experiences can encourage others to follow your lead—to step up, become a mentor themselves, or reflect on the guidance they’re receiving right now! To find out more or to submit your personal experience for Mentor Monday, contact Andra at firstname.lastname@example.org