Report on Tristan da Cunha: pictures and podcast

My regular readers know I have an odd interest in remote places. There’s something fascinating about the romance of adventure and a more immediate, to-the-soil-or-sea way of life: a romance I prefer to observe by Internet. And there’s a resonance of God seeking out the lost or liminal. As a subset, I’m fascinated by Christian churches on the edge of human civilzation.
Whatever the case, I’ve been on a tear looking up these far-away, little-remembered places.

Turns out that Lonely Planet, the travel book people, assigned Rob Crossan to report — photos and a podcast via satellite phone — on the most remote human settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, on the island of Tristan da Cunha, in the South Atlantic.


The church at the bottom of the world

Every once in a while I go looking for the most liminal church I can find, geographically-speaking. Now I look to Antartica, and find the Chapel of the Snows, at McMurdo Station. That’s the main American scientific station.

This chapel is the third there, the last having been destroyed by fire. It is open twenty-four hours a day, and I rather gather residents go there to veg and have a cup of tea (since I’ve seen that service mentioned twice in so many words on McMurdo sites.)

The chapel, picture found at

Most services are volunteer-led, but a Catholic priest comes in from New Zealand one month a year. There seems to have been a role for Navy chaplains, but like most things about daily life down there it is hard to get firm information. The “my life in” sites tend to be pretty old, preserved as they are as Scott’s camp.


Call me silly but I have a fascination with mixed-use (or interfaith) religious architecture with a particular period (post-WWII it seems) feature: turntable altars.

This interest was fostered by its odd, gee-wizz, and even its kitch character, but the original inquiry came out of some thought around the appropriate interworking of worship in governmental settings, like military, aviation, or educational settings. Most of the turntable altars are and were found in military chapels. If you have one chapel, out of necessity it must serve the whole religious program. Here comes technology to the rescue.

Imagine a triangular tower that pivots on its vertical axis where each of the three sides are set for Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish worship. Pivot, and voila the building changes function. Simple chancel furnishings complete the scene.

No great thoughts here — just a couple of pictures. Of course, the best pictures are “in-between” shots. (Coming from US government sites, I’m assuming they’re public domain.)

National Institutes of Health chapel Naval hospital chapel, St. Albans, New York

And a remote link:

in the United States Merchant Marine Academy chapel

The church at the end of the earth

There’s a passage of scripture that is a appropriately popular, Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will bear witness for me in Jerusalem, and throughout all Judaea and Samaria, and even in the farthest corners of the earth.

That’s a heavy mandate for li’l ol’ me who enjoys the simple pleasures of ground turkey Rice-a-Roni, a glass of sherry, and a bit of Internet armchair tourism. Should I worry that I’m not doing enough for the Kingdom of God?

Greenlandic church in Thule

Well, the Lord will ask plenty of me, and I pray that I can give fully of myself. But there’s comfort that I’m not doing this work alone, or for the first time. The Church is not a collection of pious (or otherwise) individuals, but a body, and Christ’s body at that. And Christ’s body includes Anton Tellesen. He’s the pastor of the Church of Greenland parish of Qaanaaq, or Thule. Thule is the epitome of “the end of the world” as in “out in the Thules.”

And if he can make it there, I can make it anywhere. The rest – the vision, the way – is in God’s hands.

Church of Greenland (Danish)
Qaanaaq Tourism (English)
UU? How about the town of . . . Uummannaq (Danish with English)

Help from the Navy (et alia, with lay persons leading worship)

I was telling a colleague-friend of some Navy resources I’ve found that might make a good basis for equipping and training lay worship leaders and assistants (there are so many names for this ministry, I scarcely know where to begin) and I thought I’d share them here, too.

On the other hand, I love to read about “rigging” for worship, rather than “setting up.” It should be noted that the training for Navy lay leaders is rather brief. Most references to training imply two to four hours, or in one case, two days.



Lay Leader Handbook and Resource Guide, Director for Operational Ministries, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. (786k PDF file; right-click to download)

Lay Leader’s Handbook (NAVMC 26 10-AH) is a delightfully, ahem, aged document, from the Marine Corps, but I’m not sure if it is as useful for unarmed, noncombatent congregations. (434k PDF file; right-click to download)

Lay Leaders pages from COMSUBPAC. (If anyone needed lay leaders, it would be submariners.) 29 April 2006. Link changed to Internet Archive version of page; original page is down.

While I’m on the subject, the Episcopal Church’s Bishop to the Armed Forces adds training points for Episcopalians so led to service.

And what of the Unitarians Universalists? Try Naples. (See bottom of page. Archival page from 2004.)

And lastly, read “SPIRITUAL DEPTH: Lay Leaders Support the Religious Community at Sea”, an article in Undersea Warfare. (Might be good to print out to inspire lay worship leaders at home, too.)

Spare a prayer for the members of the armed forces, too.

Sad news from the other side of the world

Sad news about the six members of a religious order, the Melanesian Brotherhood, taken hostage in the Solomon Islands: a warlord confirms that all are dead. Please pray for the deceased.

A news story from Australia and this official obituary fill-in the story.

I first learned of the Melanesian Brotherhood when I found their liturgy, and discovered the news story when I wnet back to get more files.

But a word about their worship: formal, traditional, but remarkably less stuffy than Anglican liturgies elsewhere in the world. I’m sure it is because theirs is a missionary church, and I have found the material useful here.

Link: A Melanesian English Prayer Book