Aug 4, 2011
The tradition of engraving names on the Ship’s Bell is one of the oldest traditions on Navy ships throughout the fleet. Photo by MC3(SW) Nichelle Whitfield.
Ship’s Bell tradition rings on new arrivals Story by MC3(SW) Nichelle Whitfield The Navy is all about tradition. Some traditions are a bit outdated, outlawed like “keel hauling,” or still in effect such as saluting. As time passes, the explanations or reasons why some of the traditions are still in practice become somewhat lost in translation. However, others maintain the original honors they once held, such as christening. Christening is defined as an inauguration, first use, launch, naming or baptism. The Navy traditionally christens ships on maiden voyages, but the Navy also performs baptisms to christen infants. USS Nimitz (CVN 68) also has a “Ship’s Bell,” or rather, three bells that share the represented title of one. The ‘working’ bell is located on the ceremonial quarter-deck and is primarily used for the ship’s 1MC. The pilot house bell is back-up to the ‘working’ bell, which is a smaller convenient version used while underway. And the bell used for christening is located in the chapel on the ship. “Every ship has a bell in commission,” said Cmdr. Brent Johnson, Nimitz’ chaplain. “There’s an old naval tradition. When people want to baptize their children on the ship, we take the ship’s bell, turn it over, fill it with water and that becomes the baptismal fountain.” Infant christening is still provided by the Navy and Nimitz, for those who desire it. “We’ve got one in the chapel full time. Ever since the ship’s been commissioned we’ve been baptizing infants in there. Then typically, in Navy tradition, we engrave that child’s name on the date they were baptized on the bell,” said Johnson. “Not every chaplain baptizes infants. I do. My church’s tradition allows the baptism of infants,” he said. To be baptized with the Nimitz bell, there needs to be a connection with the ship. Connections include being a previous Sailor, a retired veteran or a relative of a previous Nimitz service member. Even people who are in the Navy on another ship can get baptized on the Nimitz, although it would raise the question as to why they don’t want to be baptized on their own ship. “There’s a situation I’m working with now. There’s a man who is working in the shipyard who had his daughter baptized back in 1979 on the ship. Now she’s got a baby and they want to have her baby baptized on the ship as well. We’re getting second generation people baptized here,” said Johnson.
Nimitz chaplains even baptize adults. The bell can be used, as the water is dipped and sprinkled on the individual. Most adults prefer submersion for baptism. For those individuals, a trough is set up on the flight deck and filled full of water to baptize adults. At times, churches or museums request the bell. During decommissioning, the ship puts a message out for any requests of the bell. Museums want the bell for a display based on that ship. Every ship has a sponsor; sometimes that family of sponsors has their names specially engraved on the inside. After decommissioning, the sponsoring family may be given the opportunity to purchase them. For more information on how to have yourself or family members christened with the bell or by the Nimitz chaplains, contact Chaplain Johnson.