International Blessings: Destin tradition launches in New Zealand

Savannah Vasquez
Mayor Mel Ponder with Julie and Greg Bailey in New Zealand.

It is no secret that Destin is a city largely reliant on the commerce brought by the lure of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Known as ‘The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,’ those in the faith community have long upheld the success of the area to a citywide event called the Blessing of the Fleet. This traditional day of blessing falls annually in Spring, following the liturgical church observance of Ascension Day, and sees local pastors gather at the docks to ask for a bountiful fishing season and to bless all of those that earn their living from the sea.

Last month, in response to a friend’s invitation, Mayor Mel Ponder took the 58-year-old Blessing Day tradition overseas to the nation of New Zealand.

“How it happened is, we’ve had the honor of having Greg and Julie Bailey from Brisbane, Australia, come in to Destin and serve during Blessing of the Fleet for about eight years now,” Ponder said, noting that the couple works for the Christian International Ministries Network headquartered in Santa Rosa Beach. “They were exposed to the event many years ago and what they were seeing here, they wanted to bring back to their nation of Australia and to New Zealand.”

In late February, Ponder travelled to the small town of Te Awanutu, New Zealand, to join in the third annual Blessing of the Fleet Day held at a local dairy plant.

 “It is a small city of about 13,000 people, highly dependent on the dairy industry,” Ponder said of the town. “The dairy industry is about 50 percent of the income there.”

Ponder told The Log the company based in Te Awanutu, Fonterra, is one of the largest dairy producers in New Zealand.

“Like Destin, they too have a fleet,” he said, “It’s just a fleet of dairy trucks.”

Early one morning, Ponder joined a group of about 20 pastors, government leaders and other individuals at the Fonterra parking lot to bless the fleet before the busy work day began.

“We showed up around six in the morning and spoke a blessing over their dairy trucks,” said Ponder. “Some people also stood across the street and held signs that said, ‘We appreciate you,’ and cheered for them as they pulled out and honored them.”

Ponder said he could immediately see the positive effect of the blessing day by the reaction of the dairy workers.

“That was one of the most moving things to see,” he said. “The look on the face of the plant manager is probably a moment I will cherish forever, his look seemed to say, ‘No one has ever thanked us.’ It was really an amazing morning. It’s the first international blessing event I have been a part of.”

After the blessing of the fleet event, Ponder met with other city leaders and talked about community leadership and Destin’s additional ceremony of the week of blessing.

“There was a group of about 12 to 14 pastors there to pray, and two representatives from parliament, it was a great turn out and a great day,” said Ponder. “The original intent was to replicate what was birthed 12 years ago here in Destin with the Week of Blessings and the idea of churches working in unity and giving blessing over the city. It wasn’t a Mayoral trip, but they wanted to honor me and bring me down there to participate in their Day of Blessing.”