Planning a Worship Service For a Ship
Over the years we have had a number of opportunities to go onto ships and provide worship services for the seafarers, most of whom do not have the ability to attend church or a formal worship service while they are onboard the vessel. Sometimes we have ships with Christians onboard who are craving this community and place to worship while they are working, so we try to provide a place to worship and commune together when approached. While many of the aspects are similar to what a usual service might look like, there are a number of factors to consider because of the complex nature of ship life.
Perhaps the first thing to note is the complex cultural differences because of the global nature of the seafaring industry (If you want to learn more about the way we approach cultural divides read our "Global Missions" blog post here). I am usually in charge of picking music for the worship part of our service, and there are a few factors to keep in mind. I try to pick some classic hymns that will be known by most people, while also incorporating newer, easy-to-learn modern worship songs. The intent in our worship is (and should be) to communally sing together as the body of Christ, worshiping God through our songs. To allow for a worshipful environment, I have found that it is helpful to do songs that are familiar, and even try to find hymns that may be popular from the country the seafarers are from.
A similar conscientiousness of the culture is necessary for the short message that we provide for the seafarers. Depending on the crew, the country of origin, and the season of life, the message might change. Sometimes it has looked like a simple gospel presentation to a group that is not familiar with it, while others are encouragements to Christians who are looking for community. There is no ship culture or individual that is the same so it is hard to tell what kind of message will speak to the crew. We must be open to let the Spirit move through our words and preparation in all things to do with the service. The spirit of doing worship services on ships is one of humility and community, and we must be attentive to the fact that we are walking onboard someone else's home and entering a different culture.
A Song of Ascents.
1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. 3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life for evermore.
Living in Unity
This psalm is a reminder to us all of the blessing and need for a community of Christians. We are told that we will be known by our love for one another (John 13:35), and at the heart of community is this mutual love between Christians. Our lives are not meant to be spent in isolation and Individualism, but are meant to be marked by our communion with one another. This truth is what we try to provide at the end of our worship service on ships. We administer communion to those seafarers onboard who wish to partake, and in doing so declare the Lord's death and resurrection, dining at his table as one. Afterwards, they usually serve us by giving us dinner, allowing us to dine together as one again. The whole process is a beautiful reminder to the importance of unity and living together as one.
the psalms teach us to pray as a fellowship. The Body of Christ is praying, and as an individual one acknowledges that his prayer is only a minute fragment of the whole prayer of the Church. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together)
It is important for us to commune together in multiple different ways today. Whether in body or spirit, we have a great cloud of witnesses that are worshiping and living out the gospel. Make a definitive effort to pray for our fellow Christians around the world, attempting to live in unity with one another and encourage one another towards the presence of God.