|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
Aviation Memorial Chapel, Pensacola, Florida, USA
Worshipper: Preacher's Kid.
Naval Aviation Memorial Chapel, Pensacola, Florida, USA.
One of three chapels aboard the United States Naval Air Station
at Pensacola, the Naval Aviation Memorial Chapel was built in
the Deep South Colonial vernacular of the 1960s and 70s
that is to say, of red brick with white wainscoating and columns
on the front, a steeple on the side, clear glass windows for
the most part, and white pews with mahogany trim and red cushions.
Most any Methodist or Presbyterian congregation in the South
would be happy with this chapel as its church. The chapel was
dedicated in May 1961 and stands as a memorial to past Naval
aviators and as a fitting place of worship for men and women
of the Navy. The chancel is split, with choir stalls behind
the pulpit and lectern. The gallery houses a grand pipe organ,
an opus of the Schlicker Organ Company of Buffalo, New York.
Large stained-glass windows include Christ the Healer and David
The chapel functions much as a parish church for those who live
aboard or near the Pensacola Naval Air Station. The clergy at
this particular time are, for the most part, from the evangelical
wing of Protestantism: Seventh Day Adventist, Church of God
(Cleveland, Tennessee), and Southern Baptist.
The United States Naval Air Station at Pensacola was formerly
called the Pensacola Navy Yard. It is the primary training base
for all Navy, Marine and Coast Guard aviators and Naval flight
officers. Included aboard the Station are dozens of facilities
responsible for training a variety of staff ranging from flight
surgeons and aviation physiologists through aircraft maintenance
personnel. The Station is home to a number of elite squadrons
and precision flying teams. Some time around 1927, a certain
young socialite named Bessie Wallis Warfield, an admiral's niece,
met Ernest Aldrich Simpson, a shipping magnate, at the Pensacola
Naval Yard. Their marriage in 1928, their subsequent divorce,
and the path by which Mrs Simpson became the Duchess of Windsor
is, as they say, history. The chapel sits within view of Pensacola
Bay, the Pensacola Light, the Museum of Naval Aviation, Barrancas
National Cemetery, and Admiral's Row.
Commander David Gibson, Naval Air Station command chaplain,
presided. Captain Jerry McNab, retired chaplain commander, preached.
John Roberts directed the music and Mike McCracken presided
at the organ. Zachary Gibson was the reader. There was a choir
of about 18 voices.
The date & time:
May 14, 2011, 10.15am.
What was the name of the
Fiftieth Anniversary of the Naval Aviation Chapel, Protestant
Service. The service was the culmination of a weekend of activity
celebrating the anniversary: an organ recital Friday evening,
and a Saturday service for the renewal of wedding vows for those
who were married in the chapel. (The photo below is of the first
couple who were married in the chapel in 1961.)
How full was the building?
About one-quarter full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were greeted by people as we entered. While we were waiting
for the service to begin, Lieutenant Joe Robbins, staff chaplain,
came up to greet us where we sat.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service
Like an airline terminal. Everyone was greeting everyone else,
and not in muffled whispers. Children were all about and sailors
showed up in everything from dress uniforms to golf attire.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Blessed be God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the
Each pew place was provided with a copy of a newer version of
the Bible and a non-denominational hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
The great Schlicker organ was used for the opening and closing
hymns as well as the closing voluntary. A Steinway grand piano
was used for one hymn and to accompany the choir.
Did anything distract
I cannot remember any other time when the pre-service chatter
rose to the pitch I heard here. It required the booming voice
of the music director, Mr Roberts, to quiet things down. During
the course of the sermon there was a distinctive "Amen corner"
behind me and to my left.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
My dad the Army chaplain always said that services of this type
should aim to meet the needs of all without offending anyone.
They must have understudied Dad! There was certainly something
for everyone. The service opened with the presenting of the
colors: four naval enlisted personnel, two riflemen, and two
flag bearers carried the the Stars and Stripes and the Air Station
flag down the length of the center aisle to the foot of the
altar and then did a parade "about-face." We recited the Pledge
of Allegiance. Upon command, the detail withdrew back down the
center aisle. The hymns were rock-solid mainline Protestant:
"God of our Fathers whose Almighty Hand" (complete with trompette
en chamade from the mighty Schlicker); "The Church's
One Foundation"; and the final hymn, The Navy Hymn ("Eternal
Father, Strong to Save") with full organ. The offertory
anthem leaned a bit to the evangelical, and was single line
melody – no harmony – with accompaniment on the
Steinway. Another highlight of the service was the reading of
a tribute to the chapel, its clergy and staff, that the congressman
who represents the district had read into the Congressional
Record the previous week.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 I was duly impressed, and pleasantly surprised that
Chaplain McNab's delivery was almost Presbyterian. I must say
that when I learned he was a minister of the Church of God,
I was ready for some brimstone!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Chaplain McNab traced the history of the chapel, the development
of the plans, its construction, the addition of pews and chancel
furniture along with the stained glass windows thereafter, and
the Schlicker in 1973. He spoke of the valor and dedication
of all of the enlisted men, cadets and officers who had sat
in those pews over the past 50 years. He spoke of the mission
of the chapel and the chaplaincy in the upcoming 50 years, and
ended with patriotic respect for God and country.
Which part of the service was like being in
The Schlicker, and the congregational singing was great! The
sermon was good and well delivered.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
Why does every church think it has to have a PA system? And
why does the person with the loudest voice always overload it?
Boy, was it bad! The opening prayer seemed to include every
possibility in life and quite a few in death. I was beginning
to think they had paraphrased every prayer in the Book of
Common Prayer! And after the offertory, two women sang
a praise anthem accompanied by the organist plus a pre-recorded
orchestral sound track. Toe-tapping but entirely too long!
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
We were invited to the hall for doughnuts and coffee, but Mrs
Kid was very hungry and wanted to head to lunch. On the way
out, everyone who had attended was presented with a specially-struck
medal commemorating the day.
How would you describe the after-service
We didn't go.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 I attended because of the anniversary. Evangelical
services are not my spiritual bread and butter. I think I will
probably not return except for a wedding, funeral, or organ
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
It did, indeed.
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.