Then He got into one fo the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. Luke 5:3, NKJV.
Rocking the Boat: The Man With the Bible, by Emily Brady. New York Times, October 28, 2007.
As the Spirit of America’s engines sputtered to life early last Tuesday and the ferry began its trip from Staten Island to Lower Manhattan, Michael Nwadiuko strode purposefully toward the back of the main deck, where groggy commuters read the morning paper and nursed cups of coffee.
In his navy suit and gray tie, Mr. Nwadiuko looked as if he were headed to a job on Wall Street. Only the Bible in one hand revealed his more spiritual aspirations.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he said loudly to the strangers around him. “May God bless you today.”
Almost nobody looked up.
Undeterred, Mr. Nwadiuko, who says he is a pastor with the Christ the Lord Evangelistic Association, began to preach about heaven and hell, as he has every weekday for the past two years during ferry rush hour. He is among the handful of evangelists who in the last few years have found the boats an increasingly opportune place to spread their message.
Although no one is sure what caused the increase, many passengers find little that is heavenly about this practice. In the past year, the No. 1 ferry-related issue called into the city’s 311 complaint line involved onboard preachers. The matter was the subject of an article in The Staten Island Advance.
Lawyers for the city’s Department of Transportation are exploring the city’s options. “We want to keep the ferry quiet for our passengers, but we’re not sure what power we have,” said Seth Solomonow, a department spokesman. “We don’t want to limit someone’s freedom of speech.”
For the moment, preachers aboard the ferry are allowed to spread their gospel as long as they don’t stand in one place. On Tuesday, as Mr. Nwadiuko preached his message of salvation, two police officers patrolling the boat walked by, at which point some of the formerly indifferent passengers suddenly sprang to life.
“Can’t you get him out of here?” one man wailed.
The officers encouraged Mr. Nwadiuko, who had been standing still, to move on.
Later that morning, as Mr. Nwadiuko continued his roving sermon, he found more sympathetic ears. When he paused to say, “God bless you” to a group of elderly women on the upper deck, they greeted him with smiles and thanks.
In another area of the boat, Jennifer Kowalski, a 34-year-old resident of the island’s Westerleigh neighborhood who was on her way to her job at Wall Street holding company, said she found the preacher’s message uplifting.
Mr. Nwadiuko, 45, who was born in Nigeria and preached in Kansas, Virginia and the Carolinas before coming to New York two years ago, realizes that his sermons sometimes annoy people but says he has their eternal salvation at heart.
“There’s a way to avoid hell,” Mr. Nwadiuko said as he took a break in the St. George terminal after completing two round-trip sermons. “And to not tell these people would be criminal.”
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