The QM2 is Cunard's largest ship and (with 2400 passengers and 1400 crew) one of the largest passenger vessels afloat. It is the only one with regular crossings of the Atlantic. The service was held in the Royal Court Theatre, which is otherwise used for lectures, dramatic productions, and cheesy floor shows. (There's an intentionally retro feel to the whole ship: the singing and dancing evoke Las Vegas ca. 1962.) The keyboard was stage left; the commodore spoke and the lessons were read from a podium, stage right. There was a small altar with a cross and a single vase of flowers, front and centre.
It's not really a community at all. Aside from the 8-10 members of the crew who attend, the congregation are new every Sunday.
Approximately 360 nautical miles east of New York City, en route to Southampton. Water to the horizon.
Commodore Christopher Rynd (the ship's master) presided; the two readers of lessons and the organist were crew members. All except one reader were in uniform (whites).
What was the name of the service?Interdenominational Church Service.
How full was the building?
The theatre is huge, so the congregation looked sparse, but I'd guess we numbered 100-150. It's hard to say because a considerable number were in the balcony, which I couldn't see well from downstairs.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As we entered, a member of the ship's company handed us service leaflets and greeted us.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very plush theatre seating, almost too comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were quiet, listening to the organ. Conversation was pretty much limited to "Excuse me" as people took their seats.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A very good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our Sunday morning service."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. We were given (reusable) service leaflets, one with the words of the service and another with the lyrics of a couple of dozen hymns. The service was billed as interdenominational, but it was in fact morning prayer from the Book of Common Prayer (1662), "miserable offenders" and all.
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic keyboard set on organ generic baroque and old favourite hymns sight-read well by (we were told later) the ship's chief electronics officer.
Did anything distract you?
There was a mobile phone that rang, making me wonder about how someone had a connection in mid-Atlantic, but for me the major distraction was the incongruity of the theatre setting and the recollection of the Royal Cunard Singers & Dancers from the previous evening.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I'd call it dignified, ordered, and restrained. The commodore was aware and wanted us to be aware that we were in a tradition of worship at sea. He said as much when he introduced the prayer for those at sea and the Naval Hymn, "Almighty Father, strong to save." He also introduced the other hymns by telling us a bit about their composition and history.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The hymns were splendid old chestnuts (e.g., "Love divine, all loves excelling") and the small and dispersed congregation sang robustly. I seem to have been surrounded by choir singers. (I asked one of my neighbours and, sure enough, he said he sings in a Welsh male chorus.)
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The decor of the theatre is completely appropriate for its major uses, but somewhat jarring in this context. Also, the number of empty seats made it impossible to ignore the poor attendance. Perhaps a smaller and less grandiose room would provide a better setting for this fine service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service, the members of the congregation left the theatre pretty briskly, so there would have been no one left to speak to me. The commodore and other officers were at the door and shook hands and chatted with us as we filed past.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – The QM2 is a splendid way to cross the Atlantic, but I suspect that living on it would get old pretty quickly. If I did, however, I'd be grateful to have this service to attend.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It continues a valuable tradition in a traditional way, and it employs some of the Western world's finest hymns and prayers.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Probably the bearing of Commodore Rynd, who is straight out of Central Casting.