By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Claire DuBois
Splitting the distance between Iceland and Norway, about four degrees latitude south of the arctic circle, there sits a small, remote archipelago named the Faroe Islands. These islands, an autonomous territory within the kingdom of Denmark, host a community known for its sheep and fishing. It is a quaint, quiet place well suited to rest and reflection.
Sailors stationed aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) learned this last weekend when the ship pulled in for a brief refueling. U.S. Navy ships don’t stop here often, but Ross stayed just long enough for Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Jonathan Scripp, from Whitaker, Pennsylvania, to seize an opportunity.
Scripp, who was baptized as a child, had been wanting to reaffirm his faith for a while. “During boot camp,” Scripp said, “a couple guys and I did a prayer night every night where we would choose a verse from the Bible and explain what it means to us, and we would go around in a circle until everybody had done theirs, and then one of the people would say a prayer. There were times where we had 20 people doing it – it was honestly really cool.”
Since leaving boot camp, Scripp has been stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and now Ross, which is homeported in Rota, Spain. He said he hasn’t done much to mimic the practice he had back in boot camp, but described feeling like something was missing from his life without it. Recently, he had asked Lt. Joshua Johnson, a Navy Chaplain stationed aboard Ross, if he could reaffirm his baptism whenever the ship pulled into its next port. As events unfolded, the Faroe Islands became that place.
“I was happy to facilitate Scripp’s choice to be baptized,” said Chaplain Johnson. “One of the highlights of being a Chaplain is those moments of witnessing and facilitating those choices made by your Sailors.”
For many years, the U.S. Navy has kept a custom of baptizing Sailors’ infant children under the ship’s bell, the bell traditionally kept aboard the ship for timekeeping, signaling, and safety in navigation. Sometimes, it would be upturned and filled with water as a christening bowl. Chaplain Johnson explained that once the baptism or christening is over, the child’s name is then inscribed in the bell. Historically, the last name to be inscribed in the bell was the person to whom it would be offered upon the ship’s decommissioning.
“They often refuse, so it can be donated to a museum,” said Chaplain Johnson, “but the tradition is to offer them that choice.”
Chaplain Johnson also explained that as baptism is a way of showing faith is a part of your life, doing so in the ship’s bell is also a way of showing you are part of the crew. He saw this desire from Scripp as an opportunity he was seizing to take ownership of his faith in conjunction with his commitment to the ship and crew.
Not only was the bell significant, but the place was also unique. The significance was not lost on Chaplain Johnson. “To my knowledge,” he said, “Scripp is the only U.S. Sailor to ever reaffirm their baptism in the Faroe Islands.”
Since it is a reaffirmation and not an original baptism, Chaplain Johnson said Scripp’s name will not be inscribed in the bell. However, the significance remains. On May 15, aboard USS Ross in port in the Faroe Islands and with a few close friends as witnesses, Chaplain Johnson re-baptized Scripp in a ceremony following the tradition of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America using the ship’s bell. After the baptism, he prayed over Scripp and gave him a small bottle of water from the bell as a memento.
Scripp said reaffirming his baptism in the Faroes, a place he had hardly heard of before arriving there, was unique and memorable. Though the significance of the bell and the location made Scripp’s reaffirmation unique, the tradition also has a long history connected to it.
“The bell is a way of connecting faith with life and history,” said Chaplain Johnson, “We’re connected with this long history that’s larger than ourselves.”
If you have ever been to the Faroe Islands, you may know the feeling that this is a significant event. It feels as though there is nothing more fitting to the Navy than connecting with tradition in a place so off the beaten track as the Faroes, and there is nothing more fitting to a visit to the regal, quiet Faroes than reflecting on one’s faith and making it a significant memory.
Scripp recognizes this with a motto he shares proudly: “If you’re in the military and don’t take every single opportunity to create a lifelong memory, then you’re just plain wrong.”