The Parish at Sea: A Day in the Life of a Navy Chaplain

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As with any other day, I awake before sunrise and take my breakfast amongst my fellows. Today I sat across from the doctor, enjoying a pleasant conversation with him before departing to the chapel for Matins. After vesting and preparing the lectern Bible for the morning’s readings, Jake enters the chapel. Although not the parish clerk, he nonetheless has been functioning as one during the Daily Office and Red Letter Day Eucharist services for the past few months. We greet each other with a silent nod as we sit quietly waiting for the appointed time to begin.

We stand. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” I proclaim, breaking the silence of the morning. Following Matins, Jake moves on to a gathering of his peers and I check-in with the chapel staff before meeting with local leaders to coordinate the day’s events.

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The Medieval Village at Sea

Where do you envision the aforementioned scene taking place? Honestly, if I were not the author I would consider the possibility of this scene being from some small medieval village parish. But since I am the author and I know of that which I wrote; it’s a description of any given day onboard the USS MAKIN ISLAND (LHD 8), a warship in the United States Navy. I’m the command chaplain and we’re at sea.

Likening a ship to a small medieval village is surprisingly apt. We’ve got nobility (senior officers), minor nobility (junior officers), guild leaders (senior enlisted), artisans, craftsmen, and laborers (everybody else). The traditional professions are represented; clergy, doctors, and lawyers. We’re a fairly insular community, as leaving the ship while at sea is generally not done. And when someone from outside the community comes onboard, there’s always a chance they’ll bring the plague. Well, usually it’s a cold or some other crud, but sickness nonetheless. And I’m the parish priest.

Worship at Sea

Although my small sea-born medieval village has an Anglican Chapel, Saint Brendan’s on the Sea (see what we did there?), the chapel space is shared with Assemblies of God, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Muslim, and Jewish communities. I’m not just the parish priest; I’m also the command chaplain who is responsible for the coordination of ministry throughout the ship, working alongside chaplains and lay leaders of other religions. If you look at the sign in front of the ship’s chapel, you’ll see the following schedule of Sunday services:

0630:  Anglican Matins (Morning Prayer Service)
0900:  Anglican Divine Service (Eucharist)
1030:  Assemblies of God Divine Service
1300:  Roman Catholic Lay Led Service
1400:  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Lay Led Service
1500:  Baptist Divine Service
1730:  Anglican Evensong (Evening Prayer Service)
1830:  Navigators Lay Led Bible Study

Pastoral Care at Sea

I have all the traditional responsibilities as any other parish priest; worship planning, sermon preparation, hospital visitation, pastoral counseling, training catechumens, et cetera. These are responsibilities I cherish dearly. I have the honor of being a spiritual director to a very devout Roman Catholic who commented how Catholic I was after I recommended he spend time reading the works of Thomas More and seek his guidance as a patron saint.

The next day one of my Baptist Sailors, who chose to come to the Anglican Eucharist service on a Red Letter Day, commented how surprised he was to hear such “an evangelical sermon from a Catholic priest.” Ah yes, the via media; not compromise, but the fullness of the Church.

Counseling at Sea

If my responsibilities were confined to that of a parish priest, I believe I would feel my days were sufficiently full. But alas, I also have naval officer responsibilities. After all, reports on the delivery of religious ministry, manning, morale, and the general wellbeing of the crew are not going to write themselves. There are junior chaplains and enlisted assistants who need mentorship, guidance, and supervision concerning the naval profession.

Staff syncs and department head meetings need the entire staff and all the department heads (of which I am one). General Quarters (battle stations) drills are all-hands evolutions. All these aspects of naval life also vie for my time. And so, I often find myself in need of resources easily at hand to make the best use of time.

Anglican Compass at Sea

One of my go-to resources is Anglican Compass. I often refer Sailors and Marines to articles on the website when they want to know about Anglicanism, but we don’t have the time at the moment to sit and talk. Sometimes I need to offer an explanation of some aspect of Anglicanism, but I really don’t have the time to sit and compose a well thought-out essay myself. Anglican Compass has assisted me in that area as well.

The resource that has made the biggest impact onboard is Anglican Compass’ Daily Office Booklet. These booklets have helped Sailors and Marines learn to pray the Daily Office. Although I can certainly give interested Sailors and Marines copies of the Book of Common Prayer (and I do!), they are less intimidated by the Daily Office Booklet and become comfortable with Matins and Evensong at a far faster rate when using the booklet than they do when they try to tackle the Book of Common Prayer right off the bat.

Although there is no belfry or any church bells to hear ring, nonetheless, I must now take my leave, journey to the chapel, and prepare for Evensong. Please excuse me. Jake will be waiting.

We are thrilled to share Chaplain Jason’s story as part of our True North series, which demonstrates the missionary impact of Anglican Compass. Please help us serve Chaplain Jason, his sailers, and many others, by supporting us on Patreon.

Published on

March 6, 2023

Author

Jason Constantine

A Chaplain in the US Navy, CDR Jason Constantine is the Command Chaplain of the USS Makin Island.

View more from Jason Constantine

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