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1815: The Ballroom, Cruise Ship Saga Ruby, Baltic Sea
The Ballroom, Cruise Ship Saga Ruby, Baltic Sea, between Germany and Sweden
Photo by MattiPaavola
Mystery Worshipper: Fluffy Bunny.
The church: The Ballroom, Cruise Ship Saga Ruby, on the Baltic Sea somewhere between Germany and Sweden.
Denomination: Non-denominational.
The building: The Saga Ruby was built in 1973 for the Norwegian American Line and was originally named the Vistafjord. Later she was acquired by Cunard and sailed under the name Caronia. She was bought by Saga in 2005, was refurbished, and renamed yet again. The ship has a traditional look about her but does not show her age in the least. The ballroom is the largest public room (I think) on the veranda deck. The room features a raised central ceiling that gives a sense of grand scale. There are retro-futuristic chandeliers and fancy lighting as would befit a ballroom, including a mirror ball over the dance floor. The side walls are glazed, affording a splendid view. At one end of the room is an elevated stage. For the service a simple wooden cross was in evidence in front of the band.
The church: The Saga Group was founded in the early 1950s as a tour company catering to travellers aged 60 and older. In 1995 they dropped the qualifying age to 50. Persons younger than that can go as caregivers, but no one under 40 is allowed. Cruises are marketed primary to residents of Great Britain, but the company have also begun recently to solicit North American passengers. The Saga Group also offer other services to seniors, such as magazines and a radio station geared toward mature audiences.
The neighbourhood: Not at all the usual surroundings for a church service (particularly the mirror ball), but the expanse of sea all around us as viewed through the glazed walls was most inspiring.
The cast: Officiating was Captain Philip Rentell. The captain was assisted by a choir made up of members of the Filipino crew.
The date & time: Sunday, 6 September 2009, 10.00am

What was the name of the service?
Worship with the Master Captain Philip Rentell.

How full was the building?
Almost full. I arrived just before the service started and had to find a seat near the back, as there were very few seats left.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed by one of the entertainment team and given a hymn book and service sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?
Extremely so. A soft and luxurious chair which spun – I was originally sitting with my back to the stage but was able to spin around and face forward. We spent most of the service seated and stood for the hymns. It was by far the most comfortable seat for any service I have attended EVER!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of chatting and, I think, some excited anticipation over the Filipino choir.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am the voice." (The captain was referring to his twice-daily announcements over the public address system.)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New and a service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, bass guitar and drum.

Did anything distract you?
The ship was swaying a bit (and not in time to the music!).

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very relaxed. Not a communion service, but reminiscent of morning prayer with hymns. The captain introduced the choir, who sang a number of hymns and worship songs and then left to get on with their work. The captain has a lovely clear speaking voice and his sense of humour was very apparent. He is a veteran seaman, having been at sea for over 30 years. He told a rather funny story that had a religious theme to it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The huge joy in the singing of the choir. They sang mostly in unison, but what they lacked in technical skill, they more than made up for with the sheer joy that radiated from every one of them, and in particular their conductor.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The swaying of the ship. I am not a good sailor and use Scopoderm patches to avoid seasickness. But one common side effect is blurred vision, so I had some trouble focusing on objects close to me. Reading was a bit of a trial as well.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most of us retired to the lido deck for a nice cup of tea, or coffee, or hot chocolate, or anything from the extensive range of hot beverages, along with a muffin or danish pastry.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Excellent, but I don't think it was fair trade. You could have a cup and saucer or a large pottery mug.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – Unless I was incredibly rich and able to spend all year on ocean cruises, this could never be my regular church. Also, I would miss the eucharist. I didn't ask, but I wonder if a priest happened to be travelling, would the company let him celebrate the eucharist?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The enthusiasm of the choir definitely filled me with Christian spirit.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Filipino choir.
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