The inaugural Worship On Water (WOW) departed from Cortez Village, Florida, last Sunday. It was an historical event. Little did I know when I guiltily packed my tiny camera – leaving behind my larger conspicuous one (it is church, after all) – that there would be hoards of reporters, photographers and no less than three TV station crews present. The event certainly received its share of publicity. (Click here for the Bradenton-Herald story.)
However, in reviewing the media accounts, I was stricken by the realization that not one that I came across focused on the message. Granted, being the only chapel at sea in America, and, one of just two in the world, the vessel itself is certainly newsworthy. Oh, and it happens to be gorgeous, with wooden pews, stained glass windows and laden with fresh flowers. And any reporter that didn’t recount the fact that this was the first worship service at sea would have been missing the mark.
But, having actually attended the service, I concluded that the bigger “mark” was the message, delivered by spiritual teacher, Gloria Ponziano.
The Perfect Storm
Gloria’s message, themed, “Get out of the boat before you’re thrown out” was based on the biblical account of Jonah, a Jewish prophet. God instructed him to travel to Nineveh, a country whose people cavalierly killed, maimed and tortured. “Go,” said God, “and tell them I love them.” Today, Gloria explained, it would be like telling this to Bin Laden.
Jonah was repulsed by the very thought of it. He rounded up his crew and deliberately set sail in the opposite direction. God retaliated, creating a violent storm – one that makes “The Perfect Storm” look like a sun shower. The sailors rightly feared for their lives until Jonah admitted his blame. The solution, Jonah cried, was for them to toss him overboard. So they did! The storm stopped; the seas became calm.
Where is the Love?
The drama didn’t stop there. He was swallowed by a big fish, later believed to be a whale. Turns out, Gloria explained, it was a giant grouper! For three days and three nights, Jonah was battered about in the belly of the fish, which ultimately regurgitated him on the very shores of Nineveh. This time, God ordered him to warn the city of its ensuing destruction lest they not repent. Jonah obeyed, but secretly hoped for the city’s demise.
Nineveh was heat-stroke hot. God caused a shade tree to grow over Jonah’s camp to protect him from the blazing sun, where he sat, in comfort, eagerly awaiting a merciless outcome. But the King of Nineveh ordered a fast, and all the people prayed and repented.
Jonah was not a happy camper; he did not want them to be spared! God caused the shade tree to die, which made Jonah furious. It was then that all hell broke loose, so to speak. God sorely admonished Jonah for caring more about the tree than the people – and the animals – of the city.
Though it took almost drowning in a horrific storm, being swallowed by a monstrous fish and nearly fainting from the heat, Jonah finally let go of the poisonous sentiments he harbored. Gloria urged us to let go of ours.
Are there people we haven’t forgiven? Anger that’s eating us up? Is there something we know in our hearts that we must do, but don’t, because we are afraid? Do we want to get thrown off the boat? (She meant this metaphorically, of course!)
After the message, the entire congregation gathered outside the chapel, onto the deck overlooking Palma Sola Bay. It was then that Gloria ceremoniously released three white doves into the clear blue sky, in a moving and symbolic act. She prayed that we find the freedom in spirit that God desires of us. As we cruised back to the yacht basin, she prayed for His blessing on all of us. Amen.
If you go: Services will be held every Sunday, from 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Boarding begins at 10:30 a.m. from the Seafood Shack Yacht Basin, on the mainland side of Cortez Bridge. Be sure to arrive early, as admittance is first-come, first-served. There is no cost to attend, but a Love donation is appreciated. Plans are in the offing for additional services.
Article by Lisa Codianne Fowler; Photos by Anna Kearns and courtesy Weddings On Water