Making room for the outsider

We all watched the global economy slump when one ship got stuck in the Suez Canal last week. The canal carries 10% of all global goods. The Ever Given, as long as the Empire State building and carrying tons of freight in metal containers, got stuck sideways, causing an estimated billion-dollar loss. Reverberations across the world will continue to be felt and we will all pay for in one way or another. The international crisis also reinforces the need for a national strategy on infrastructure and the hidden cost of postponing timely investment. The canal was never designed to carry the amount of cargo is does. In this one photograph, we see what mutual dependence on globalization looks like and what happens when we simply take it all for granted.

The New York Times created a short video about Malcom McLean, the inventor of the now remarkably familiar metal containers that began the process we now call globalization. It is also a great story about the important role of the outsider in problem solving. Sometimes, experts are so focused on their own experience and processes that they cannot see a different way of solving a problem or creating a new solution. McLean was a North Carolina truck driver and waited in long lines with other trucks as dockers unloaded their cargo (a few crates at a time) onto ships. McLean wondered why the whole rear of the truck could not be efficiently removed in one go, but the shipping and transportation experts laughed at his notion. It took McLean several more years to create his model and in 1957, the first adapted ship carrying individual containers set sail and globalization, as we know it, was born. The Times reports:

McLean converted the World War II tanker Potrero Hills to a ship capable of carrying containers and rechristened her the Ideal X. She made her maiden journey on April 26, 1956, sailing from Newark to Houston carrying 58 metal containers and 15,000 tons of petroleum.

By the time the ship had been unloaded in Houston, the company was already taking orders to ship goods back to Port Newark in containers, writes de Haas.

“Loading loose cargo on a medium-sized cargo ship cost $5.83 per tonne in 1956. McLean’s experts calculated that the cost of loading the Ideal X at 15.7 cents per tonne. With numbers like that, the container seemed to have a future.”

McLean grew into ship owning with his company Sea-Land. Initially the containers were loaded on their chassis, but later the chassis was left behind, enabling containers to be stacked.

The first vessel to carry containers only was Sea-Land’s Gateway City which made her maiden voyage on October 4, 1957.


Globalization and our Diocese

On Wednesday evening, I watched a remarkably interesting Zoom presentation by fellow Episcopalians from local parishes as our Diocese celebrates Global Mission Month this April. Phoebe Griswold is the Chair of the Diocesan Global Mission Commission and invited me to join the Commission several months ago. The Diocese has a long-standing companion relationship with Guatemala and more recently with the Diocese of Jerusalem (our bishop will talk about it in a second Zoom conversation scheduled for April 29th at 6 pm). The bishop is very committed to global relationships and has been appointed President of the Anglican Communion’s Compass Rose Society. These relationships are very important to individuals, parishes and the bishop himself so the Diocesan Commission is focusing on sharing some personal stories of transformation that globalization can offer us. The church provides an exceptional network of relationships that are life-giving and change the course of personal and national histories.

I was very moved by the stories of these fellow Episcopalians whose lives were changed and enriched by getting out of Philadelphia and going on a mission trip to Guatemala. Twenty-year relationships between parishes have changed their ways of looking at the world and its complex problems. The Bishop of Guatemala, Silvestre Romero, shared how important it was simply to pray for each other and know that God unites us all in a mysterious human journey together. The joy and generosity of his people, often facing great hardships, hurricanes, and floods, can inspire others into generosity, service, and companionship with others. The opportunities for mutual enrichment and inspiration are legion, through these kinds of relationships and counter the sense of being overwhelmed by the more negative impacts of globalization.

Where do you start? This is something the Diocesan Commission wants to help people and parishes find answers to by sharing examples from parishes like St David’s, St. Mary’s, and many others. We are also offering communication grants to parishes to help tell their stories and invite others into this unique way of looking at globalization as an opportunity rather than a curse. You cannot turn on the news these days without realizing the impact of globalization on all of us, no matter how much we want to hide away in woodsy Chestnut Hill.

Refugees and the US Border region

Many of you know how concerned I have been about refugees and a significant part of all wedding and funeral fees over the past two years have either gone to local organizations like the Interfaith Hospitality Network or two agencies assisting refugees (St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation and HIAS (great supporters of our Room at The Inn family from Africa). I asked bishop Silvestre what Episcopalians can do to learn about the refugee issue on the USA’s southern borders and help. His response was encouraging as he told us about an active coalition of Episcopal Dioceses in USA and in South America to address these issues. How do we treat people with dignity and offer them opportunities to address their needs for safety, the ability to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families? How do we address the problems causing people to leave countries like Guatemala?

The bishop and the group of Philadelphians shared several economic development projects that give Guatemalans resources and hope. The Biden Administration has opened space and diplomacy where the causes of mass immigration and its long-term solutions can be discussed. Solutions can come from surprising individuals and communities and the Episcopal church and our international network brings a unique way we can invest in the future. We covered a lot of ground on this excellent presentation, and I came away feeling encouraged and grateful for these relationships that counter our sense of being overwhelmed by the problems of the world.

As an immigrant myself, I know some of the challenges and opportunities of leaving home and seeking a new future in a different place than home. We rely on the welcome and friendship of others who welcome us into established and sometimes closed societies and defensive institutions. The outsider will always have a more difficult struggle in proving what they have to offer the new host society, as opposed to the privileged who usually have grown-up together, went to the same schools or universities and belong to the same clubs. Churches are full of people who know exactly what I am describing. How do we make room for example, for the recent Covid 19 exiles from New York who simply want more space for the work and families while offering opportunities to bring their gifts and resources to help Philadelphia move successfully into the challenges of the 21st century? Outsiders and refugees come in many disguises. The churches can and do create spaces, not only in pews but on committees, vestries, and staff teams to welcome these opportunities for innovation, re-invention, and ministry. How will we do this in St. Paul’s or in the institutions we love in the Chestnut Hill and Philadelphia area? How do we become more open and welcoming of these new relationships? How can our Diocesan and international episcopal networks solve complex problems, one relationship at a time?

Maybe there is another Malcolm McLean out there, an outsider with an idea that will change the world? Sometimes the solutions to our problems come from unlikely people with vastly different experiences and mindsets. A truck driver with too much time on his hands (btw, his daughter is an Episcopalian Lay Eucharistic Minister!) has changed our lives for the better, but they laughed at him and his new-fangled ideas. Please check out more about our international relationships and how they may benefit you and your interests in the months ahead as we celebrate Global Mission Month.


Albert J. Ogle