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The chaplain, Father Mapple, enters the chapel, hangs up his wet coat, hat, and boots, and goes to the pulpit to begin the service.
Father Mapple, Ishmael explains to the reader, was a sailor on a whaling ship when he was younger and has become a clergyman in his old age.
As a result, he has a lot of interesting mannerisms that most clergymen don’t have.
The pulpit from which Father Mapple preaches is very high, and, instead of having a long staircase that would crowd the little chapel, it has a ladder on the side, the kind of ladder sailors use to climb up into a ship from a rowboat.
Father Mapple clambers up this ladder into the pulpit.
Just as Ishmael is thinking that it really isn’t necessary for this rope ladder to be collapsible like a real shipboard ladder, Father Mapple pulls it up after him.
Ishmael decides that hauling in the ladder symbolizes the clergyman’s "spiritual withdrawal [...] from all outward worldly ties" (8.4).
There are other seagoing touches in the chapel, too: there’s a painting hanging behind the pulpit, of a ship in a storm and an angel looking down on it from a sunny cloud. The front of the pulpit and the lectern where the Bible sits are shaped like the bow of a ship.
Ishmael makes this all into a (rather strained?) analogy: "the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow" (8.7).