|115: MS Ryndam cruise ship, Caribbean Sea|
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Mystery Worshipper: Bartimaeus.
The church: Sunday worship on Holland America Line's MS Ryndam cruise ship.
The building: In a hotel-type meeting room onboard ship.
The neighbourhood: The immediate neigbourhood includes the Java Coffee bar and the 400 seat Wajak movie theatre, which provides free popcorn with its first-run feature films. The movie theatre is used for Catholic services, but the Protestants meet in a meeting room just down the corridor.
The cast: Rev Al Guilliermo, a Roman Catholic priest from New Jersey, who spends his vacation as a chaplain on cruise ships.
What was the name of the service?
Non-denominational Sunday worship.
How full was the building?
There were about 50 seats set out in the meeting room and 30 were taken by the time I arrived just as the service was about to begin.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The priest said "help yourself to a service booklet and hymnal". No one else spoke to me, but people nodded and smiled.
Was your pew comfortable?
As the "church" is used the rest of the time as a meeting room, the pews were conference room chairs. Padded and quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everyone. Does everyone have a copy of the order of service and a hymnal?"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Holland America provides worshippers with a prepared order of service including all of the words. The style of prayers appears to be Anglican in origin. There was also a hymnal printed by the National Council of Churches.
What musical instruments were played?
No instruments of any kind in the meeting room.
Did anything distract you?
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The whole service, including prayers, sermonette and hymns, lasted 22 minutes. Father Guilliermo appeared relaxed, but there was no ad-libbing and the order of service was followed to the word.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 I'm sure that the same sermon was delivered at the Catholic mass which preceded this service, but the style was relaxed and delivered without notes.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God what is God's." A strong message on our obligations as Christians to those who are less fortunate than we are. I felt it took courage to deliver it on a cruise where the goal of many was to eat, drink and party as heartily as possible.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The idea that on this ship carrying 1,200 people, 40 or so were prepared to give up a few minutes to worship together when they could have been eating or baking in the sun.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The singing. The majority of the group had a great deal of difficulty carrying a tune. The woman directly behind me was an enthusiastic singer but painfully off key.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone left with little or no conversation. An elderly lady cornered the priest, so I never had a chance to speak with him.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No food or beverages were offered.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0. I'd have to have one fabulous income to make this my regular church!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I had hoped for more "substance", but recognized that when the congregation probably included everything from Soutern Baptists to Anglicans, it was probably what I should have expected.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The prayer for merchant seamen on ships around the world that I found particularly meaningful and almost moved me to tears.