Saturday, January 10, 2009

USS George H.W. Bush CVN77 Commissioned

This morning on tv I watched the commissioning ceremony of the new aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush. The best part is, after all the VIP speeches are done, the order is given to man the rails and the duty section runs on board the ship in their dress blues, the band playing "Anchors Aweigh." It's not the entire crew, since that would run into the thousands and would be a very long process! It's an impressive thing to see. I've never been onboard a newly commissioned ship (wonder what the brand-new ship smell is like?) but having been onboard a carrier, I know it's very big and you don't necessarily get to see all its many spaces and little nooks and crannies (not that you would actually want to)!

I wonder what its chapel looks like? A big ship like a carrier would have its own chapel (on the smaller ships like cruisers or destroyers, you're lucky to snag a classroom or some other unused space for religious services). A ship's chapel is a multi-use space, meaning it can be used for different religious services or classes - it's not just used for a single denomination or even religion. For a crew running into the thousands, the chapel can be used for both Protestant Christian and Catholic Christian services (which would be the most numerically dominant religious group, not counting the "no religious preference" crowd) and also would be used by any practicing "others" onboard, usually Jewish Sailors, but now also likely to be Wiccans and Buddhists. On the USS Abraham Lincoln which I was on for awhile during my deployment last year, there was a small section containing a Torah and other Jewish items, and also I was able to bring onboard some Buddhist materials. I recall that there was a small Wicca group that met weekly. There is typically nothing in a chapel that designates it as overtly "Christian" or even religious - no huge crosses or crucifixes permanently attached to the bulkhead, or even any kind of religious decoration. It has chairs and a podium. The chapel is really just a space set aside on the ship for stillness (but not necessarily quietude - I could always hear the planes taking off directly above my head and was that loud)! In this way, it can be used by anyone, as it is meant to be. A carrier would have its own staff of Chaplains and RPs that takes care of the chapel space and schedules religious services and classes, usually no more than 3 chaplains - to take care of a crew of 3,000! Your own megachurch! A ship would also have a number of "lay leaders" who could do services in the absence of a chaplain of their own faith tradition, whether it be Catholic, Mormon, Wiccan, etc.

Being on deployment is naturally stressful, and being assigned to any carrier or ship entails lots of underway time, meaning separation from family and working in a potentially dangerous environment, even if you are not going into a war zone, like the Persian Gulf. The fire on the aircraft carrier George Washington for example. Also, you are living in very close quarters, unless you are someone like the Captain or other senior officer. Having a place for "stillness" is very important; being alert 24/7 and at sea for weeks or months on end, you will appreciate a place set aside for stillness.

I am sure the crew of the George H.W. Bush in the months and years to come. I pray that they will do their jobs well and find stillness in the midst of clamor.

Namo Amida Butsu

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Buddhist Military Sangha by Jeanette Shin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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