I got this job by applying to the port chaplain in
Southampton. He is responsible for the Church on the High
Seas, part of the Mission to Seafarers ministry. They have
chaplains in 260 ports in 71 countries around the world, and
provide services to help crewmen and -women in distress. They run
seafarers' centres, do ship-visiting, and assist with
cruise-chaplaincy placements. I think it was in 1995, and I've done
24 cruises on the Mission's behalf.
It's not a sinecure or a holiday. One of the
big problems is that you only meet the passengers and crew for a
very short time. The challenge is to get to know them, and to get
as high profile as you can. It's a seven-day week: there's no
let-up, no day off, and on a long cruise that can be quite
You have the awesome responsibility of the spiritual
care of all the passengers and crew, whether they're
Christian or not. It's like being a parish priest who is
responsible for all his parish, whether they come to church or
After a death on the ship, which, on a long
cruise, is quite likely to occur, you provide bereavement
counselling. There are happier occasions, such as the renewal of
marriage vows. I also do counselling, and one or two of the crew
generally come to me for confession. Much is confidential, of
I make an effort to spend time with the crew,
because, in a way, they're the ones that need a special ministry,
being on board for nine months at a time.
I am classified as an entertainer. It's an
anomaly, but everyone on board has to report to someone, and in my
case I report to the cruise director, and then on to the
You have to try to get the best time for your services
that you can, but there's a big demand for the public
rooms on the cruise ship.
One of the difficulties is finding time for mass for the
crew, because of their workload: not everyone stops at the
same time. We juggled between eleven o'clock at night, which a few
attended, and three in the afternoon, when quite a number have
their rest time - but it was never easy.
I've never been seasick. I love being at sea.
My first expedition on board ship was on the Bergen line, with the
Scouts, when I was 16. We went across to Norway, and that was a
very rough crossing, but I survived it without being sick. The
large ships are pretty stable these days, and you get used to
A world cruise is for four months. You do miss
home, but you are so busy with every day's demands, and the
planning and preparation for tomorrow.
With the advent of emails, you can keep in
touch, but they are quite expensive on board; so we take advantage
of the internet cafés in the ports we visit. This is vitally
important for seafarers who are far from home for so many months at
a time. The Mission to Seafarers provides these facilities in its
centres in many of the ports.
It is quite a relief to get home. I am
exhausted by the time I finish four months at sea, and it's nice to
see your friends and family.
We go to some wonderful places. In the world
cruise that we did last year on MS Balmoral, when the BBC
were filming The Cruise: A Life at Sea, we visited 33
ports in 20 countries, and in every port there were excursions.
I agreed to take part in the series because I wanted to
highlight the role that a cruise chaplain plays on board a
ship. Many people have no idea that there is a chaplain on
board, and I felt that it was an opportunity to encourage the
cruise shipping lines to reconsider having a chaplain on board for
grand voyages, as many of them have ceased to do so.
We've become much more of a secular society,
and that's reflected in the passenger manifest, which is the list
of the names of all the passengers on board. But also it's a matter
of money: I occupy a cabin in the passenger area of the ship, and
on a world cruise that's quite an expensive item. I don't get paid
for being on board: I get board and lodgings for services
The television series didn't reflect the whole
picture. Two people died on board, and my times with the
relatives were private. I held a "chaplain's corner" every morning
in the lounge at 11.30, but much of what the passengers shared with
me could not be filmed.
On a world cruise, I was able to visit the
Mission to Seafarers centre in Tasmania, and the Mission chaplain
in Brisbane. I conducted a Sea Sunday service at the Mission in Sri
Lanka, on the Saturday before Easter, and then in Gibraltar I met
the Mission's port chaplain.
There are over 1.3 million men and women at
sea, and they are very often lonely. Sea Sunday is a
service that the Mission to Seafarers sponsors to encourage
parishes at home to remember seafarers. They have problems such as
isolation, family issues, unsatisfactory working conditions, or
abandonment. They need our prayers and our help. They are not just
keeping us fed and entertained on cruise ships: we depend on them
to deliver over 90 per cent of imported goods to the UK.
At one time I was honorary chaplain to the National
Theatre in London. There were two nurses permanently at
the theatre, and I used their section as my base. So there's the
link of caring for the physical and spiritual side of people. On
cruises I do try to visit the medical centre every morning.
I once met Sir John Gielgud. The difficulty at
the National was there were three plays a night, and there are over
500 people backstage. I would go into the green room with my
clerical collar, and many actors would think I was in a play.
I worked for Shell after being in the Army. A
colleague there was a great influence and a great friend. I was 32
when I was ordained. I worked in Kingston-upon-Hull as a curate,
and then became the domestic chaplain to two Archbishops of York,
Donald Coggan and Stuart Blanch, before going to Church House in
Westminster, where I worked as the recruitment secretary, at the
same time having a parish in Surrey. Then I moved down to Guildford
diocese and became the Canon Missioner at Guildford Cathedral, and
also the ecumenical officer.
Retirement? We never really retire. I've been
retired for 18 years now, and I'm just as busy as I was before
retirement. The great joy is that now I don't have to go out in the
evenings, or attend lots of meetings.
My mother died four years ago when she was 94.
When I got back from the world cruise, she was absolutely overjoyed
to see me, and a week later she died. She had obviously waited for
my return, which was something very special. I have two sisters and
a brother, and we are a close family. Whilst on the
Balmoral, I was able to see my niece, who was born in
Canada and now lives in Sydney.
I regret that I never knew my father. He was
killed in the Second World War, when I was only nine.
I love Sydney and Brighton. Brighton's lovely
because I am fortunate to have an apartment facing the sea. I've
visited Sydney 11 times.
I'm not a great reader. I'm too nosey or
interested in what's going on, even on train journeys and flights.
I enjoyed The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, about
Michelangelo. I quite enjoy Dan Brown's books, too.
I like to use Bible stories about people who had made
journeys as a theme for many of my cruise services. Ruth
is such a lovely story to read in its entirety. Many of the
passengers said they had never read the whole thing.
Music is very important to me. It enables me to
relax, and I play music most of the day. I'll give you three:
Allegri's Miserere, Fauré's In paradisum, and
Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto, which always brings tears to
I'm a reasonably peaceful person, but I got
annoyed when I learned of the decision of the Government to arrange
the commemoration of the beginning of the Second World War this
year. I think there is nothing to commemorate about that. I think
we should be in sackcloth and ashes.
I'm happiest when I'm in my own home, looking
out to sea; while at sea; being among friends and family; or in the
My prayers are linked with what is happening,
offering up the day to God, and being reassured that he is with me
in whatever happens and whatever I do. I keep a special prayer for
I'd choose to be locked in a church with Donald
Coggan. He was a very special person, a great influence on
me, and I learnt so much from him. He had a good sense of humourand
a very deep faith. He regarded his chaplains as his sons, becausehe
had two daughters but nosons, so we became a part of his
The Revd Colin Still was talking to Terence Handley