Destin Celebrates the 67th Annual Blessing of the Fleet and Its History

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By Mike Hesse and Claude Newland

Think of Destin Harbor. Now add to the scene more than one hundred fishing boats, dive boats, rescue, recreation and tour boats forming a great line around the harbor. Picture a worship service outside the Destin Fishing Co-op with boat captains and crew members, families, friends and visitors gathered together. Then envision many of Destin’s clergy processing down the docks. Imagine locals and visitors watching from those docks as each vessel passes by in its turn to receive a prayer asking the blessings of God on its captain and crew. Then, let your mouth water as you contemplate the fish fry which follows.

Destin Blessing of the Fleet blessing boats in waterThe past, present and future of Destin are tied to the sea. Her fishing industry is an integral part of northwest Florida history. The fishermen formed the backbone of early Destin. They and their families also shared their faith as members of Destin’s churches. Thus, on May 15, 1958, Ascension Day on the Church calendar, an Episcopal minister named William P. Erwin, of Destin’s first little church, St. Andrew’s by the Sea Church, held a simple worship service asking God to bless those who made their living on the water. 20 boats were blessed that day. Who would have guessed that the Blessing of the Fleet would grow to become one of Destin’s greatest annual traditions?

The Rev. Mr. Erwin later reflected on the reasons behind that first celebration;
“Our purpose in blessing the boats was that the boats, as tools by which the people work for their living and serve others may be consecrated as worthy objects used according to God’s will; that the Lord will bless the labors of those who work the boats and prosper them; and that God will keep in safety all who come aboard.”

Those reasons still stand and Immanuel Anglican Church continues the tradition today. Clergy from various Destin churches now participate in blessing boats and the number of captains and crews seeking blessings has grown to more than 140 vessels per year.

God has been good to Destin. He has blessed the community with beautiful water, abundant fish and a safe harbor for her fishermen. The Ascension Day Blessing of the Fleet is a time for us to thank the Lord and humbly ask for His continued favor on those who make their living from the sea.

Ascension Day 2024 marks the 67th celebration of the event. This year’s Blessing of the Fleet will be held on Thursday, May 9, at the docks behind Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer restaurant. The event begins at 4 p.m. with a public Worship and Prayer Service to be held under a large tent. After the service, around 5:15 p.m., clergy will head to the floating dock to begin blessing those vessels which have pre-registered. All commercial fishing, safety and recreational vessels that make their living on the sea are invited to participate. In 2023, 153 fishing boats and other vessels were blessed. The public is invited and encouraged to attend.

A community Fish Fry will also begin around 5:30 p.m. with a suggested meal donation. Many community sponsors help make the Blessing of the Fleet possible. Our special thanks go to Ariel Seafood and Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer restaurant for providing, cooking and serving the fish and all the extras. Thanks to the City of Destin, free parking will be available across the street from Brotula’s at the City Parking Lot starting at 2:00p.m.on Thursday, May 9th. Blessing of the Fleet tee shirts will be on sale, near the docks on the day of the event.

To pre-register your vessel: If you and your vessel make your living on the sea and would like to receive a blessing, please register your watercraft by emailing immanuel@iacdestin.org, or by calling the church at 850-837-6324 with your vessel’s name, captain’s name, mailing address, email address and phone number.

Also, during the week of Ascension Day, “Destin’s Week of Blessings” offers additional faith-focused family-oriented events which create greater opportunities to bless and support the Destin community. For more on the Week of Blessings, visit “Church of Destin, Inc.” on Facebook.

For more information on the Blessing of the Fleet, visit iacdestin.org/special-events/blessing-of-the-fleet, or contact Immanuel Anglican Church at immanuel@iacdestin.org or 850-837-6324.

Immanuel Anglican Church is located at 250 Indian Bayou Trail in Destin, just north of the Nancy Weidenhamer Dog Park in Destin.

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