Titanic Memorial Cruise: the Memorial Service

The link is to a five-minute BBC video of our memorial service at the Titanic Wreck Site. This took place about 2 a.m. out on deck.

Now I’m going to vent, and hold onto your hats, because I may very well offend you.

I loved being on this cruise. I was thrilled and honored to be there. But there was one problem that came very close to spoiling the whole thing. You can see and hear examples of it in the video, which is only five minutes of two or more hours.

The problem was the overwhelmingly Christian service. I honestly did not go into this expecting them to provide a secular service, but I never considered they would do something so religious, and so obviously dismissive of religions other than Christianity. I realize 1912 was a different culture, but there were still several religions represented among the Titanic passengers. This memorial service was Christian Biblical readings, Christian hymns, and Christian prayers (in Jesus’ name!) from beginning to end.

We were in line to enter the lounge for the indoor part of the service when we were handed the “Order of Service” bulletin, which showed hymns, readings, prayers, etc. (There was also a sermon – a real, honest-to-ghod, Christian sermon, all provided by an Anglican priest.) We could not participate in that service. We didn’t even go into the lounge. Instead we waited  outside the doors for the service to end, then went on deck with everyone.

I hope you can understand how much this upset me. I’d been waiting and planning for this moment for three years, and it was effectively pulled out from under me, just as it got started.

The service on deck was also highly religious in nature, as you’ll see in the video. I realize that most people will think it was all beautiful and solemn and correct, and that I have no right to be upset. But my feelings and thoughts are as valid as anybody’s. I will not say that their service completely ruined the event for me, because I know enough to ignore what doesn’t apply to me. I stood on deck and thought my own thoughts and didn’t listen to their prayers. But I should not have had to do that.

I know there were Jews on Balmoral. There were Muslims. There may have been other Pagans. I’m sure there were other atheists, and certainly lots of agnostics. We had just as much right to honor the Titanic dead in our own ways, without being forced to participate in some other religion’s service.

They should have done this with, and for, all  the passengers on Balmoral. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that when you’ve got people from all over the world participating in something, that you can’t pick one religion to represent them all. And people need to start accepting that there are others in the world who don’t believe in any god at all, and who do not participate in any kind of religion. They need to stop excluding us from public events. We should not have had to stand on the sidelines, with no way to truly participate in a service for the Titanic.

Titanic was a human disaster, evoking a human response even one hundred years later. There were people at that service who were not, in any way, worshiping the Christian “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” The people who arranged the service were wrong to do it the way they did. There’s no way to fix it, and I will not waste energy on a grudge or ill feelings. My hurt over the issue will fade.

But I do hope for a culture where public, non-religious events do not turn into religious services that keep part of the public from actually participating.


17 thoughts on “Titanic Memorial Cruise: the Memorial Service”

  1. Agreed. I was taken aback when I heard it would be a Catholic/Christian ceremony. It excluded many people of 1912 and 2012. Completely ignorant on their part. Why did there need to be any kind of religious service? We could have done readings from survivors or their loved ones could have taken turns speaking. It was very uncomfortable for me. I too am not letting it ruin my personal experience and reasons for taking the trip.

      1. Hi Marlene,

        You, your husband and my wife obviously had the pleasure to meet on several occasions onboard and even shared a few meals and drinks or two. I think it has been very obvious by my comments on my own FB Group page that I too was very much against the religious service which we too encountered. Knowing that it was going to be a “Christian based” service, I was accepting but not happy with the very one sidedness of this service. As a Boy Scout and Scout leader, I have learned many years ago tolerance and understanding of all religions and religious beliefs, however it does not change my beliefs and feelings about the onboard memorial service we had. There was an obvious reason why victims were buried in at least three major cemeteries in Halifax, Nova Scotia; because not all religions believe in the teachings of Christianity. A very nice non-denominational service could / should have been arranged instead of a very Christian service. Although the intent and thoughts were good in performing a memorial service, what we witnessed onboard was very little memorial service and very much a Christian Service. Thoughts and respect had nothing to do with the planning of the Memorial Service and it certainly did not show respect for all of the victims of the Titanic, unless of course your religious preference happened to be Christian.

        I have deliberately waited to take up an issue on this subject as well on my FB page; Titanic Memorial Cruise, but what the heck, it is obvious that I have already upset quite a few members on my FB Group page, for reasons I have yet to figure out.

        Howard Owens

  2. Just watched the video you were so kind to post. I agree 100%. It was unnecessary and quite over the top. I do, however, envy the fact that you were there. Ever since I was a little girl the Titanic has fascinated me. Often getting goose bumps reading about it. I do believe in Reincarnaton, so who klnows?

  3. Oh Marlene. How come I knew as soon as I met you that you would influence my life for the better ? I am so sad to learn that the service spoiled things for you and perhaps others and worse still, that even as a lapsed Catholic, I did not think about other religions present and their feelings. You are so strong and were able to rise above it – I salute you and have a lot to learn from you.

    1. Ah Claire, you’re awesome! I know that most people just don’t worry about this kind of thing, so it’s easy to not see it happening. It’s only when you decide to be a rebel of some sort, that you start noticing things.

  4. Hi-I’m new here (just read Shipbuilder a couple of weeks ago and loved it) but I thought I’d chime in to say I absolutely agree with you. I do regret that I wasn’t on the memorial cruise, but the overtly religious (and a particular brand of religious) nature of the memorial ceremony would have disturbed me too. While I wouldn’t expect a completely secular observance, this sounds like it was over the top. I think that if I was there I would have done what you did-tuned out the “noise” as much as possible and made my own personal observance. On the night of the anniversary I honored those who were lost in my own way, but I was by myself and it would have been nice to be with others who had the same intention.
    Thanks for posting your point of view. The pervasiveness of one set of beliefs in our society and the view that other beliefs (or non-belief) are abnormal disturbs me and it is good to hear people speak out.

    1. Thank you, Jennifer. It’s heartening to know there are other people who understand. In the end, it was the fact that we all had the same intention – to honor the Titanic dead – that helped me get through the night. I’m glad you made a moment of your own time to do it, too.
      And I’m glad you liked Shipbuilder! It’s my own personal eulogy for Thomas Andrews.

  5. Marlene:
    As a committed Roman Catholic, I agree with you totally. That kind of arrogant insensitivity violates the essence of faith. Sometimes religion gets in the way of our universally loving God. Thanks for turning the spotlight on this issue.
    Al Garrotto

  6. Marlene, I am sorry that you feel like you were snubbed during the Memorial Service. I agree with you that a secular service would have been the best choice to encompass many religions and beliefs. Hindsight is 20/20 and I am sure many of us had things that we would have liked to change, but as you said it was a once in a lifetime experience. I think the one thing we can’t debate is that the intent was there for those who wanted, to pay tribute to those who lost thier lives on that dark,cold night.
    My experience that night wasn’t great either, but I had other issues that night. I was witness to a man who tried to wave an Irish flag every time a camera came near. I felt like I was at a football game. It felt disrespectful and made me angry that it was about him and not about the service. I was distracted because of that and missed a bit of the service. I am mad at myself for lettiing the reason I was there to get taken away like that.
    I ended up getting my perspective back when we did the cemetary tours in Halifax. In the Baron De Hirsch Cemetary, We learned that the 2 bodies that were identified, niether were Jewish. The fact that they were not moved and that someone left ebenezers for them really hit home to me.That no matter what opening your heart by thinking of someone other that yourself and allowing them to become a part of your concousness is the important part. They are remembered and will live at least as long as we do. Does it matter if it’s through Jehovah, Samhain, or Yama as long as we do it for them?

  7. If a Christian-based country, Britain, has one of their country’s ships sail to the Titanic site to memorialize the lives lost at sea, one would rightfully assume the service would also be Christian-based in their traditions of observances. If an Israeli-based ship would have sent a ship to this site it would have invoked Jewish rituals for their dead. If an Arabic-based ship would have sent a ship, the service would have been Muslim-based. Having pointed out this, one could pre-suppose the dominant religion would have been biased culturally toward the organizing religious tradition of their culture.
    We are all God’s children, and we all have valid, but different, ways to honor our dead. We do all the lost souls from this tragedy a dishonor by getting upset that our religion wasn’t the the preferred one.
    The alternative suggested here is that we should dilute our focus by  being  multi-cultural, and in doing so we diminish every belief to the extent we trump someone else’s religion with our own religion.

    What is tacitly implied here is that we should have had two minutes of silence and try to honor all faiths by honoring none specifically.

    All we need ask ourselves, to turn a phrase, is one simple question: What would those people on the Titanic have wanted us to do? We should  NOT be a people from 2012, taking our present day culture, emotional baggage, disagreements, back in time to those lost in 1912. By dressing in period clothes we look like those from the Titanic, but we don’t ACT like them. We should be people taking our thoughts, our respect, back to that point in time, that night, where we were collectively saying, we honor you by remembering you, in YOUR time, at your moment of death.  We did not need to bring our differences, our pettiness, and our grievances back in time to them. 

    I said my Christian-prayer for them silently, you said yours silently. We do them a dishonor bringing their memories, and their spirits forward in time into ours…Would they have done that to us had the situation somehow been reversed? I submit not.

    1. I have to disagree. I am an Anglican, from a country that has may faiths. All services that honour the dead have prayers, but the prayers are sensitive to the beliefs of others. The ceremony is often led by a spiritual speaker, with no specific references to religion and although representatives from all major religions are present, we NEVER have sermons.

      It’s not that hard to remember that others who are with you aren’t all of one faith. And that Christian country the ship sailed from? Last time I checked, it was secular. And its citizens weren’t all Christian, then or now.The problem with your argument is we do live in the now. Just as we don’t expect to put the passengers on the memorial crew to stay in class restricted lodgings, we shouldn’t allow the cultural unfairness that was so prevalent in the past to make an appearance here. There is no way that respecting others beliefs would somehow dilute Christianity’s. You say we would pre-suppose the dominance of a Christian service, but the problem with that is that other religions have to be present for it to be dominant. They were, in fact, totally excluded. That’s not dominance. That’s exclusivity.

      It is not petty to feel excluded. It is not merely an ‘upset’ that someone went here to remember and honour a tragedy and had to play second fiddle because of an easy to correct oversight. This smacks of a casual disregard born of an attitude that never dies. That other religions and countries matter less. That ‘we’ means ‘we Christians’ and not ‘we the people’. If the service had been Muslim, you would have been surprised and not a little annoyed. Yet you assume that others should swallow something you would not abide.

      Have a ceremony that honours all and remembers those we love, not one that pushes one religion or another. This tragedy wasn’t about religion. It was about human loss and love. You are right about one thing. Everyone should have said their private prayers to whatever God they believed in. Putting one religion in the spotlight is neither excusable, nor a fitting tribute to a tragedy that was so far-reaching in nature. It would have been easier to say those private prayers if the public ones weren’t so overwhelmingly Christian. Just because you’re comfortable, don’t tell others to suck it up unless you’ve had the same experience. But then again, it’s not likely you will ever have to endure such a public ceremony where Christianity is completely ignored, is it?

      The dishonour here would be to pretend this didn’t matter. To fail to acknowledge that we should have, by now, figured out a way to be better people.

    2. Tom Byron (norybmot), after reading your response you posted on my page which you wrote in response to Marlene , I wanted to comment on it, but my wife Terry advised me against it as she wanted to see how other comments would “play out”. It is not about which religion ‘got there first’ or whose religion and in what country the Titanic originated in, it’s about humanity. As an individual who is very accepting of all religious beliefs, but neither a Christian nor Catholic myself, I grew up in Southern California (USA), having learned tolerance and acceptance despite the multitude of my friends and others who spent the first 15 years of my life trying to convert me to their religion. However, the times have changed and we need to change with those times. I have many friends of many different religions, who knowing my religious preference, have never implied that I should blindly shut up and be forced to worship their way utilizing their beliefs; I kind of thought that was why I served in the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War.

      I too have to wonder how you would have felt had the entire service been performed in a non-Christian based service. Based on your posting, I can see that you would have been neither happy nor tolerant, as you expect other non-Christians to have been. Having read all of the comments Marlene received on her blog, I noticed several devout Roman Catholics and Christians stating that upon second thought, their original views were one sided and without thought of other views or beliefs, yet you criticize Marlene and I for not accepting your views?

      Yes, Terry and I did attend and participate in both of the onboard services and I said a prayer for the victims of all faiths onboard being also certain not to leave out the victims of my faith, as the Memorial Service certainly did.

  8. Marlene, as a Christian, I feel your pain. It is so easy to include, one wonders why exclusion is so celebrated. I’m sorry the organizers were so shortsighted. Let them know how you feel. We can’t move forward unless we look back at the past and correct our mistakes.

  9. I am an eclectic Pagan and had the honour of being onboard the Titanic Memorial Cruise. I attended the service-my only feelings were ones of deep remorse for the victims of that horrible late evening of 14 April 1912, not of whether my, or other passengers religious beliefs were not being considered. Blessed Be to all.

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