By Crystal Hamon | Photography by Lisa Ferrick
Those who go down to the sea in ships, Who do business on great waters, They see the works of the LORD, And His wonders in the deep —Psalm 107: 23–24
Seafaring vessels with flags hoisted high upon their masts and bows especially adorned with decorations lined up along the jewel of the city’s coast, the Destin Harbor, waiting to be blessed.
In 1957, when Destin was still just a sleepy fishing village, a tradition known as the Blessing of the Fleet began. Seeking prayers for safe journeys and prosperous catches is a custom not uncommon in fishing villages around the world. For fifty-two years, the fleet, made up of fishing boats and sightseeing vessels, has gathered in Destin, the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” as priests prayed for the industry to thrive. Father Mike Hesse of Immanuel Anglican Church has been at the helm overseeing the ceremony since its inception.
In 2004, Mel Ponder, a Destin city councilman at the time, realized that the fleet always continued to prosper despite the ebbs and flows of the economy. Mel spoke to Father Hesse about extending the traditional Blessing of the Fleet into a longer event that would encompass other vital portions of the community. “I felt like God laid it on my heart to share that same kind of blessing with other parts of the marketplace,” said Mel. Unbeknownst to him, Mike Parker, captain of Silver King Charters, had approached Father Hesse with the same idea only days before. Believing this to be a spiritual confirmation, Father Hesse, Captain Mike Parker, and Mel Ponder established the Destin Week of Blessings.
Now in its sixth year, the Week of Blessings continues to minister to the needs of the city of Destin with the support of sixteen local churches, often referred to as “The Church of Destin.” The Blessing of the Fleet, which always occurs on Ascension Day (forty days after Easter), remains the anchor for planning the week’s events. This year, from May 17 to 21, pastors from the participating churches ministered to local police departments, hospitals, fire departments, schools, and businesses. The Church of Destin welcomed 320 business owners, government leaders, and education officials to the Blessing of the Marketplace luncheon at the Destin Community Center, where attendees were invited to receive personal blessings and share testimonies. Father Mike Hesse recently told Coastal Christian Family magazine, “In our area, business owners and employees know that the Christian community cares about them and prays for them individually, both during the Week of Blessings and throughout the year.”
The Blessing of the Fleet—the ceremony that started it all—was the culminating event this year. As we arrived, a heavy rainstorm ended and serene skies formed a beautiful backdrop for the day of blessings. After a small service was held beneath a tent behind Fisherman’s Wharf, the ministers called for all of those who make their living from the sea to come forward and receive blessings. One hundred twenty-two small boats and larger vessels pulled away from the dock to form a floating processional in the harbor. On a barge facing the fleet, ministers, dressed in robes, stood with their hands extended, offering blessings for those aboard as the boats passed by. After each vessel was blessed, it sailed through the harbor to briefly touch the Gulf and return to dock, ready to begin another blessed year.
Destin may no longer be the sleepy fishing village it once was, but the tradition of seeking blessings remains a sturdy guide today as the community continues to chart new waters of progress. Whatever storms may come (literally and figuratively), the citizens of Destin have solid bedrock upon which to rest their hopes, and a strong community on which to rely.
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