Royalty, politicians and military chiefs gathered at London’s Westminster Abbey on Friday to mark half a century of Britain’s seaborne nuclear arms program — though organizers insisted they were not thanking God for atomic weapons.

Prince William, Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt and naval officers attended the service in honor of Britain’s nuclear-armed submarines and their crews. At least one U.K. sub carrying nuclear missiles has been on undersea patrol at all times since April 1969, a 50-year mission titled Operation Relentless.

The abbey said the service was not a celebration, but a recognition of the Royal Navy’s commitment to “effective peacekeeping.”

Britain's newly appointed Secretary of State for Defence Penny Mordaunt leaves after attending a Service to recognise fifty years of continuous deterrent at sea, at Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, May 3, 2019. Royalty, politicians and military chiefs are gathering at Westminster Abbey to mark half a century of Britain's sea-borne nuclear arms program _ though organizers insist they are not thanking God for atomic weapons. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool)
Britain’s newly appointed Secretary of State for Defence Penny Mordaunt leaves after attending a Service to recognise fifty years of continuous deterrent at sea, at Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, May 3, 2019. Royalty, politicians and military chiefs are gathering at Westminster Abbey to mark half a century of Britain’s sea-borne nuclear arms program _ though organizers insist they are not thanking God for atomic weapons. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool)

“We pray that the Royal Navy may never be required to deploy these terrible forces in war and that they may continue to deter their use by others,” Dean of Westminster John Hall told the congregation.

Prince William, who is commodore-in-chief of the submarine service, gave a reading from the Bible.

Peace activists condemned the service, and almost 200 Anglican clergy signed a letter calling for it to be canceled.

Britain's newly appointed Secretary of State for Defence Penny Mordaunt, foreground centre, and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, behind, leave after attending a service to recognise fifty years of continuous deterrent at sea, at Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, May 3, 2019. Royalty, politicians and military chiefs are gathering at Westminster Abbey to mark half a century of Britain's sea-borne nuclear arms program _ though organizers insist they are not thanking God for atomic weapons.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool)
Britain’s newly appointed Secretary of State for Defence Penny Mordaunt, foreground centre, and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, behind, leave after attending a service to recognise fifty years of continuous deterrent at sea, at Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, May 3, 2019. Royalty, politicians and military chiefs are gathering at Westminster Abbey to mark half a century of Britain’s sea-borne nuclear arms program _ though organizers insist they are not thanking God for atomic weapons. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool)

Anglican priests were among several dozen demonstrators who held a protest and “die in” across the street from the abbey.

Kate Hudson, secretary-general of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said the event was “morally repugnant.”

“This sends out a terrible message to the world about our country. It says that here in Britain we celebrate weapons — in a place of worship — that can kill millions of people,” she said.

Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, performs a reading during a service to recognise fifty years of continuous deterrent at sea in his capacity as Commodore-in-Chief of the Submarine Service, at Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, May 3, 2019. Royalty, politicians and military chiefs are gathering at Westminster Abbey to mark half a century of Britain's sea-borne nuclear arms program _ though organizers insist they are not thanking God for atomic weapons. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool)
Britain’s Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, performs a reading during a service to recognise fifty years of continuous deterrent at sea in his capacity as Commodore-in-Chief of the Submarine Service, at Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, May 3, 2019. Royalty, politicians and military chiefs are gathering at Westminster Abbey to mark half a century of Britain’s sea-borne nuclear arms program _ though organizers insist they are not thanking God for atomic weapons. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool)
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, right, listens during a service to recognise fifty years of continuous deterrent at sea in his capacity as Commodore-in-Chief of the Submarine Service, at Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, May 3, 2019. Royalty, politicians and military chiefs are gathering at Westminster Abbey to mark half a century of Britain's sea-borne nuclear arms program _ though organizers insist they are not thanking God for atomic weapons. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool)
Britain’s Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, right, listens during a service to recognise fifty years of continuous deterrent at sea in his capacity as Commodore-in-Chief of the Submarine Service, at Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, May 3, 2019. Royalty, politicians and military chiefs are gathering at Westminster Abbey to mark half a century of Britain’s sea-borne nuclear arms program _ though organizers insist they are not thanking God for atomic weapons. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool)
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, performs a reading during a service to recognise fifty years of continuous deterrent at sea in his capacity as Commodore-in-Chief of the Submarine Service, at Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, May 3, 2019. Royalty, politicians and military chiefs are gathering at Westminster Abbey to mark half a century of Britain's sea-borne nuclear arms program _ though organizers insist they are not thanking God for atomic weapons.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool)
Britain’s Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, performs a reading during a service to recognise fifty years of continuous deterrent at sea in his capacity as Commodore-in-Chief of the Submarine Service, at Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, May 3, 2019. Royalty, politicians and military chiefs are gathering at Westminster Abbey to mark half a century of Britain’s sea-borne nuclear arms program _ though organizers insist they are not thanking God for atomic weapons. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool)

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