Mystery Worshipper: Isla White
Church: Brilliance of the Seas
Location: Somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 September 2015, 9:00am
The Brilliance of the Seas is one of the Radiance Class ships of Royal Caribbean International. The facilities are too numerous to mention, but include gyroscopically levelled pool tables and a rock climbing pool. The heated swimming pool in the solarium features underwater lights that cycle through the colours of the rainbow. The Wikipedia entry for Radiance Class gives details of the appointments of this class of ship. The church service was held in the huge theatre.
Royal Caribbean aggressively promotes the scope and calibre of the entertainment presented on board in the theatre and other venues. These include a variety of religious services: a Catholic mass and a Rosh Hashanah observance were both planned for later that day. All passengers are welcome to attend all services.
Somewhere between Iceland and the east coast of the United States. "Calm seas and prosperous voyage," as they say.
The Revd David Remy, Royal Caribbean chaplain. Father Remy is a retired US Navy chaplain. He invited us to call him "Father, Pastor, Rev or just plain Dave."
What was the name of the service?Interdenominational Service.
How full was the building?
The theatre is huge and would have looked empty with twice as many people. There were about 2500 guests on board ship, but I can't really say how many were at the service. (Some were spending their Sunday morning decidedly elsewhere see below.) But it was nice that the organisers allowed for more people by booking the theatre rather than putting us in the tiny cinema.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
During the peace, another passenger asked where we were from and said that her own family had come from England in the 1600s.
Was your pew comfortable?
Extremely plush, with wide arm rests that incorporated a drinks holder.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet chatting, no music, people looking round to see how many others were in the theatre.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, folks."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A4 sheet with six traditional hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
American vowels during the a cappella singing, especially when they were followed by an r. Also, not directly related to the service, but at one point we passed through a pod of whales, several of whom swam parallel to the ship for around half an hour.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A traditional sort of prayer meeting, intended to please everyone and not offend anyone. The lights were dimmed, which prompted the chaplain to say, "I don't know why the lights are going off because we need them. I guess this is a bit like the early church which met in the catacombs, and that's the origin of candles."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The chaplain read the scripture lesson beautifully and with great feeling. Later, he commented on various pithy sayings, such as: "Friendship is like a book – takes years to write but seconds to destroy" and "What looks like the end is actually a bend in the road." There was one other zinger that I'll mention below.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The first half was a straightforward sermon based on the Bible passage, which was Mark 8:27-38 ("Who do you say I am?"). Why did Jesus just not come out and tell the disciples who he was? More interestingly, why did he warn them not to tell anyone who he was? It is because they were not ready to know who he was; they misunderstood the whole concept of the Messiah. We need to get close to Jesus to find out who he is before we can proclaim him.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
During my time on board, I felt an affinity with specific other passengers whom I met. But I couldn't quite piece out why that might be. However, at this service I finally discovered why: here they were, as I was, at church in the middle of the ocean! And they were smiling at me as I left the theatre.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Walking through the casino to reach the theatre. Seeing precious souls, for whom Christ died, wasting their time, money and God-given potential in thrall to inanity.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone was there for the first time, so people freely introduced themselves all around, as is common on ocean cruises. The chaplain pointed out that there was time to go and get a drink before the lecture that would soon begin, which was to be on the 11th century Norse woman known as Gudrid the Far Travelled, said to be the most widely travelled woman of medieval times.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There are always drinks available on board a cruise ship. However, there was no boiling water (water, water everywhere, but nary a flame to heat it). So I gave up on the prospect of a hot cuppa and settled for mint tea, what the Americans call iced tea. Likewise, there is always far too much food available. So we retired to our cabin on deck three and from there took the stairs to the caf on deck eleven, in the hope of burning off the extra calories. (I'm afraid we promptly put them back on, though!)
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I don't take an ocean cruise every day, nor do I go on a cruise to go to church, but it is nice that the opportunity is made available. There was one Christian couple whom we met who told us this was their 77th cruise!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The zinger: "Prayer is like a car wheel not the spare tyre, only brought out in emergencies; but rather the steering wheel, which should be used constantly to direct us."