Chapel on aircraft carrier offers solace to many faiths

Saturday, February 23, 2002

ABOARD THE USS JOHN F. KENNEDY -- Far below the thundering flight deck, the largest floating chapel in the United States military offers solace and spiritual guidance for 5,100 sailors and crew members.

In an atmosphere that's as much like home as the Navy can make it -- right down to fake stone walls and faux-stained glass windows -- people of many religions go to worship as the ship heads to war.

"Our Muslims pray five times a day. They just come down individually and pray," said Lt. Cmdr. David Mudd, a Roman Catholic chaplain. "At the same time, there may be someone else in here reading the Bible or a Catholic praying the rosary.

"Somehow it all works. It is supposed to be a place for the free expression of all religious faiths."

Each weekend, there are 10 different types of services on board, including Jewish, Seventh-day Adventist, Lutheran and Catholic. Most services are in the chapel, although the Gospel service meets on the mess deck because it attracts up to 300 people. Chapel music ranges from chants to tapes to a nine-piece band that plays in the Gospel service.

In addition to Mudd, the chaplains include a Lutheran and two other Protestants. Other services are run by lay leaders.

The chapel opens at 5 a.m. for quiet meditation and often is in use until after midnight.

On a typical aircraft carrier, the chapel sits right under the flight deck and is noisy and small, usually seating about 45 people. The JFK chapel is two decks below the hangar bay and seats more than 100 people, Frederickson said. No one on board is sure how the chapel got its enviable spot, though many are glad it did.

The steel walls of the chapel are painted to look like sandstone.

"It's kind of a monastery look," said Mudd.

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